We don't need any more cops, says Don Clairmont, the man who literally wrote the book on violence in Halifax.
Clairmont, a criminologist and head of the Atlantic Institute of Criminology at Dalhousie University, was hired by mayor Peter Kelly to study violence in Halifax and to make suggestions for addressing violence. The resulting report back to the city is exhaustive---spanning seven thick volumes reflecting thousands of interviews and unprecedented research, the Clairmont Report makes 64 specific recommendations to the city.
But while Clairmont delivered his report to Kelly in May, only last week---two weeks before the election---was Clairmont invited to address the full municipal council, which directed city staff to come back sometime in November with a report on the report. Any actual concrete action on the part of the city appears a long way off---well into next year, at the earliest.
Moreover, Clairmont fears he has been misrepresented, or at least misunderstood.
"The main reason I agreed to meet you is because there has been some miscommunication, and I want to set that straight," he tells me Thanksgiving Day in his Dalhousie office.
Contrary to some people's perception, "that report doesn't call for more police officers. The actual police ratio now is very, very good, and the chiefs of both the RCMP and the Halifax Regional Police Department acknowledge that."
After the Halifax Regional Municipality was formed in 1996, policing levels on the Halifax peninsula fell to a lower cop-to-citizen ratio than they were in the old City of Halifax, he acknowledges. "But the fact is they've added well over 100 officers since then. That problem's solved. Check it off the list. Don't come back to us for any more members."
Instead of simply adding more cops, Clairmont outlines a broad agenda of social activism on the part of the city. It includes the creation of a public safety department in the city bureaucracy, an expanded role for social service workers, an activist approach to race relations, municipal involvement in providing housing for people caught up in the court system and a city-sponsored court diversion program. That agenda goes against both citizens' expectations and city government's understanding of itself, he says.
"The old City of Halifax had a social planning department," he explains. "They even sponsored a limited guaranteed income program,"---a mechanism for making sure the city's poorest and most disenfranchised residents had a minimal level of income each month.
"They were doing a hell of a lot of things," he continues. "In the case of Africville, they developed the Seaview Credit Union to help Africville people who were waylaid by the relocation, they were doing race relations, they were very active. It wasn't the kind of system we have now."
In the 1990s and through amalgamation, responsibility for social services was stripped from municipal governments and given to the province. Now, across Canada, criminologists and sociologists are seeking to reverse the process and bring social services back to the community level. Clairmont holds up Winnipeg and Surrey, BC, as leaders in the return to community level social services.
"Now, everybody is not used to how it used to be done," says Clairmont. "So when we have a problem all we do is think of the police, or all we do is think of the schools. The short-term solution is get more police; the long-term solution is open the schools 24/7 and have the teachers do better values instruction. The preoccupation I found in the surveys and the public meetings was always on youth, was always on 'We need more cops and the schools have to do a better job so these barbarians are civilized people when they leave,'---that's the way everybody talks about things.
"That's the way the public and many of the councillors think, too---because those are the two things they have access to. They think in terms of short term it's the police, long term it's the schools.
"Now what about the community? What about the role of government in some of these things? That seems to have vanished from the public consciousness."
Much concern is expressed about youth violence in Halifax, but that's just a tiny fraction of the overall problem, says Clairmont.
"What I was trying to do in the report was say, hey, now look, youth are fine---they make up about eight percent of the criminal population, and they account for about 12 percent of all the crime, and they're the least violent, normally.
"It's people who are 19 to 25---we have the highest proportion of that group of any jurisdiction in Canada---who are most likely to commit crimes and be victims of crime. And you can't get a dime to help any of those people."
Much of the violence problem lies with young adults already in the court system---about one-third of the 900 people on probation in Atlantic Canada live in HRM, says Clairmont. But essentially none of that population, or additionally, youth leaving halfway homes at age 16, is provided with any social assistance in the way of housing, drug treatment, mental health services or the like.
"They're on their own. No one knows where they are."
Clairmont would also like to see the establishment of local mental health, domestic violence and drug courts. Those courts break the old guilty-or-not, jail-or-not mode of justice and replace it with a more flexible system that builds a long-term relationship with offenders. Where they operate, the courts have shown great success in reintegrating offenders as responsible citizens.
The courts are administered by the province, but Clairmont says the city could run a restorative justice program, initially geared toward property crime. Antigonish runs such a program, which requires vandals to work directly with their victims for restitution. But once the system is up and running, it could be expanded to even violent crime.
Clairmont sees a big role for the city in addressing violence related to prostitution---he wants "realistic policies" and supports the establishment of a "stroll area" or decriminalization of brothels for the safety of sex workers.
And at council, he berated the politicians for their failure to take race relations seriously, pointing out that the city bureaucracy has abysmally low numbers of visible minorities.
To help the process along, Clairmont wants the city to hire dozens of European-style community support officers---people trained specifically to address social problems at the community level before they bloom into violence problems.
"None of these things are panaceas---there are no panaceas in life---but they help."
And, he says, there's no need for council to wait for city staff to come back with a report.
"The first thing we have to do is build some capacity, and we do that by hiring a public safety coordinator." In fact, Clairmont says a public safety coordinator's first job will be to process the reports city staff is bringing back to council.
"The new council comes on next week," he says. "They should do it then."
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