It has been a busy few months since my last Transforming Edmonton post, so I finally decided to sit down, remove distractions and write. So, Blackberry off and coffee in hand, here goes…
At first I wanted to offer a veritable laundry list of the actions our Team has taken but then I realized that maybe that information isn’t really all that important after all. Let me explain…I think that more important than the ‘what’ of our actions is the ‘why’. I don’t mean ‘why’ as in…”to improve community safety and wellness”, I mean ‘why’ as in, the underlying reasoning.
When I first started with NET, some nine years ago, I don’t remember using theory as a guide. I just discovered or created strategies that helped prevent crime and then implemented those strategies. I still technically do this, however, now I’m a little wiser, and my work is much more intentional. Most of the actions I take boil down to some aspect of the Routine Activities Theory, specifically the Crime Triangle. To save you from Googling it, I’ll explain.
The Crime Triangle has three components positioned on a triangle: target, place and offender (or potential offender). Related to each component are protective factors which are either present or absent. For a crime to occur all three components must be in place and protective factors must be weak. Much of our work with NET focuses on building protective factors. We know that they do not act independently, so we must bolster protective factors within each of the components to reduce crime. This is why we work together with community members and stakeholders- each is a subject matter expert of sorts and we depend on their expertise. We also know that we will not accomplish anything truly meaningful or long term without working together.
Now I think of all the actions we have taken in relation to ‘thefts from vehicles’ which has been a NET major focus. Some of the strategies have worked to strengthen protective factors for the target. These are things like reinforcing how important it is for people to protect their property and what actions they can take to make their vehicle less vulnerable. We encourage people to remove their valuables, lock vehicle doors and roll up the windows. These may seem like simple, common- sense actions but they go a long way in building protective factors for the target.
Other NET actions have focused on place. When we looked at our community’s statistics and where vehicles are most vulnerable, we identified that parking lots are often targeted. This is why we have partnered with the Vancouver Police Department and Canadian Direct Insurance to pilot the Safer Parking Initiative in Edmonton (www.saferparkingedmonton.com). The program’s mandate is to improve the reality and perception of safety and security in parking facilities. Parking lots are assessed and recommendations are made based on proven crime prevention principles. The program doesn’t just take environmental factors into account, but also makes recommendations for management practices, ones where operators take real ownership of the facility and treat it similarly to their home. The program has gained a lot of interest and support from city and police administration and many of the facility owners and operators we have connected with have expressed eagerness to participate. In Vancouver, there has been an average 47% decrease in crime in participating facilities. We believe we can have similar results here and increase safety in the community and in Edmonton.
The third angle of the triangle is offender or a potential offender. This is a much more complicated realm to impact and building protective factors in people is much more difficult. Potential offenders are a product of their environments, just as we all are. We all require support and positive environments to grow and flourish. I could go into theory to explain potential offender behaviours, however ultimately they are often due to the presence of multiple vulnerabilities such as poverty, mental health, FASD and addictions. These vulnerabilities can take years and generations to address and require a shift in our social climate towards better supporting marginalized populations and reducing inequalities. A desire to ensure supports are provided to vulnerable individuals was the starting point for Lane’s work. Lane is our Youth Liaison and she has been working with community stakeholders to coordinate Youth Connect, a youth-centred version of Homeless Connect. Although Homeless Connect is an invaluable resource, historically, youth do not attend. Lane has been identifying and addressing the barriers to youth attendance. It’s hoped that by making resources more accessible for youth that they will be more likely to engage with those who can offer them support. This includes addressing the conditions which have caused them to become vulnerable and bolstering their protective factors.
Over the next few months our work will continue to focus on projects such as these with each of them in one way or another addressing the Crime Triangle. We hope that through this work and the partnerships we have developed, we can continue to improve community safety and wellness in our city.