Drinking, Violence, Murder

January 11, 2013

I’ve been wanting to do a study of murder in Ottawa for a while and somehow it never gets to the top of the pile in terms of projects.  Although each tragedy is its own terrible story, there are some themes that we need to examine more closely if we want to prevent successfully.

The tragic murder in Gatineau of a young student, the same age as my daughter, outside a bar I am fairly certain she has visited, brings home the theme of alcohol.  Too many of the homicides that we see in Ottawa and the area seem to be associated with alcohol.  Although we need to avoid blaming the victim, I think that if I ever get to my study, I fear discovering that many murder victims have had a few drinks — and so have the perpetrators.

When the drinking is in the public realm, we can try to licence and manage the establishments to promote good behaviour.  But when a tavern’s security (bouncer) asks people to leave because they are creating a disturbance, are they safe?  And what about private parties? This cannot be solved through alcohol regulations alone.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility.  And part of that is creating a culture of moderation and good behaviour when it comes to alcohol.  Our society has come a long way in the past 40 years on drinking and driving.  We need to start that same conversation about drinking and violence.

We all talk to our children about drinking and driving. My challenges to all of us is to have those conversations with our sons and daughters about drinking and assault, drinking and violence, and drinking and sexual assault.  It is hard, but it is absolutely necessary.

Good Evidence on a Violence Prevention Program that Works!

July 16, 2012

Crime Prevention Ottawa’s Board member Dr. Irvin Waller often sends out emails about interesting things – this one particularly caught my eye.

So, I draw your attention to a great evaluation of a program in Chicago that works, here I am quoting Dr. Waller:

Mentoring and Social Skills training in schools show initial violence prevention success

A recent randomized clinical trial, the largest ever conducted with an urban youth population (nearly 2,500 adolescent boys in 18 schools in Chicago), carried out by the University of Chicago Crime Lab in partnership with Youth Guidance, World Sport Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools showed that an intervention called Becoming a Man-Sports Edition (“BAM”):

  • strengthened social-cognitive skills and generated massive declines in violent crimes by at-risk youth (over 40 percent) during the program year, though the impact faded the following year

    Picture from Medill Reports

  •  Increased the degree to which youth were engaged in school, as measured by school attendance and class credits earned, an impact that lasted through the program year and the year following


Return on investment exceeds three times the modest cost.

 Read more at http://crimelab.uchicago.edu/page/becoming-man-bam-sports-edition-findings


The Anti-Bullying Business

June 21, 2012

While attending the “PrevNet” conference on Bullying down in Toronto earlier this week, I reflected on many things – one was that as I get older I find it harder and harder to concentrate and listen for a full day!  When I think that that’s sometimes what kids in trouble at school….mmmm…I kinda understand those who are diagnosed as “attention deficit. ”

Although they were trying hard and although it really was a good conference, I came away wondering if we really do know all that much about how to reduce bullying in schools.  There are examples of programs that have generated a lot of “buzz” and the conference attendees were treated to a great performance by Jasmine Richards of her song “You have the Power.”  But is there any actual, concrete evidence that those kind of activities really change behaviours? 

One presentation from the Maritimes illustrated wonderful and upbeat school activities, but when they showed their last slide with their data on self reported bullying at the school in question, even though they tried to hide it by playing games with the scales on the graphs, it actually demonstrated that reports of bullying had stayed the same or increased.  Which might actually mean the program is working because the children were reporting and identifying behaviours that they might have accepted before…. but.  And for me it was a big but.

The kinds of programs that can actually show behavioural changes aren’t always as easy to market and package.  They take time.  They cost money. You don’t change ingrained behaviours, often learned at home, with a few fun activity at school.  Kids need to learn how to manage the complex relationships in their lives through significant investments, like the 21 lesson “The Fourth R” program.  Or a clinical intervention for children with behavioural issues called Fast Track that has had excellent results but no longer is offered.

We live in a society which tolerates, even celebrates, bullys and bullying behaviours in our leaders, our politicians, our sports stars, in our workplaces.  Reducing smoking has taking years and involved required a wide variety of interventions, including enforcement, education, social marketing and more. Reducing bullying also needs a society wide approach.  We need to look at everything from enforcement, to modelling good behaviour to fun campaigns like songs and videos.  No single intervention will ever be a silver bullet.  There are so many, competing anti-bullying initiatives, perhaps we need to find a way to collectively pick out a few and really get behind them.

In September CPO will be hosting a speaker series event on bullying: I hope that we will be able to find the right balance between the “evidence” and the “buzz”.

Communicative Disabilities

May 11, 2012

Crime Prevention Ottawa has been managing a community partnership called CODA: Connecting on Disability and Abuse for about two years now. 

Through awareness workshops for service providers we identified that we needed to break down the complex diversity of differing disabilities.  So, we decided to hold a meeting exploring the issue of abuse with a specific group of disabilities – we considered looking at physical disablities or development delay but we finally decided to start with communicative disablities.

CODA partnered with the Canadian Hearing Society, the Aphasia Centre of Ottawa and the Learning Disabilities Association of Ottawa- Carleton to host a half day consultation.  At the beginning we thougth that success would be a group of 50 people — but we ended up with 95 registrants!  Obviously there is a significantly vulnerable population which needs to be heard on issues of abuse.

A report will be coming a couple of months, but for now I can tell you that the participants LOVED the keynote speaker Alex Carling-Rowland, participated actively in the breakouts and wanted more time to talk!

Strategic Planning – again!

May 2, 2012

A couple of years ago, Crime Prevention Ottawa adopted a strategic plan for January 2009-December 2012.  So, if we want to have a plan ready for next January we need to start now. 

We will be consulting with our stakeholders through focus groups, an internet-based survey and some key informant interviews.  And we are gathering data in partnership with the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study.

If you are interested in being part of our consultations, please make sure that we have your email address on our contact list (just send an email to CPO@ottawa.ca) to be added.  And I will also see if I am able to post a link to the survey once it is ready in a few weeks.

Your ideas, priorities and concerns are important to us!

Crime Doesn’t Pay?!

April 27, 2012

According to the United Nations, quoted in the National Post, crime generates an estimated US$2.1-trillion in global annual proceeds – or 3.6% of the world’s gross domestic “It makes the criminal business one of the largest economies in the world, one of the top 20 economies,” said Yury Fedotov, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), describing it as a threat to security and economic development.”  

That may seem far away from Ottawa, but if you look back at the CPO study “Life Course of Youth Gang Members in Ottawa” you may recall that, indeed, those young men were making money.  A lot of money.  In fact, I calculated that based on Prof. Kelly’s research a twenty-something “re-up” man with 8 or 10 runners selling crack is well into the Canadian 1%.  In fact, since they are not paying taxes, they are astonishingly rich.  In their interviews with Prof. Kelly some gang members indicated that the money was a problem, they were making too much and it was drawing too much attention.

Global criminal markets matter for our safety.  Whether it is drugs, illegal weapons, other contraband or human beings.  We need to find new and more effective ways of addressing these destructive and dangerous businesses.  At a local level we can, and do, try very hard to do our part.  But these issues are truly global.

The Funding Game

April 20, 2012

One of the best and worst things about my job is letting people know about the results of the Paint It Up! funding competition.  Paint It Up is a simple program that we manage at Crime Prevention Ottawa in partnership with Public Works.  We give small grants to groups in the community who want to create an outdoor mural in a grafitti prone location by engaging local youth in a summer project.

Vanier Paint it Up at Louis' Pizza on McArthur

But it’s a competitive system, people work hard (or some not so hard) on applications and about half of them get rejected and disappointed.  Sometimes when I read the applications I want to scream – I hate it when an fabulous organization, with a really good project, makes a simple mistake in their application.   I know that the project has merit, that they worked long and hard on the application, but it won’t get funding because they didn’t bother to follow the guidelines. 

So here is my best advice to grant seekers:  get yourself on a jury for a funding competition.  Sit through the decision making process, it can be long and tedious and you will spend your weekends reading proposals – but you need to understand the process from the OTHER side.  I know that agencies have visions of what they want to do and that is important, but if you want money, you need to learn to play the game.

Pushing my Buttons

February 17, 2012

I have found a miraculous cure for my bloggers-block!  Robynn Collins asked me if she could be a “guest blogger” and I gratefully accepted.  Robynn has been working on United Neighbours, a CPO-funded initiative in the west end.  I hope you find her thoughts on crime reporting as intriguing as I do.

Pushing my Buttons: A Few Theories for Explaining the Underreporting of Crime in Ottawa

In working on crime prevention through community development one of the tools I use to get a pulse on crime and safety issues is to host “Coffee Houses.” Tremendous effort goes into getting community members, the Ottawa Police Service, OC Transpo Security, Neighbourhood Watch, Ottawa Community Housing Security, and Crimestoppers to come together and discuss emerging issues in a casual format, usually at a Community House or Recreation Centre. Having worked in community development for a few years, there is one thing I know for sure: People do not like to report crime, and more often than not, don’t. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a range of explanations as to why people don’t report crime as much as they could, or should. I have a few theories of my own.

Fear of retaliation

The topic of reporting crime dominates discussions at our Coffee Houses. Residents say they don’t report crime because of their fear of retribution from neighbours, or that someone will “know” they reported a crime, and/or that they do not want police showing up at their door. Despite reassurance from OPS that reporting is kept confidential, people still think they will get marked as being a “rat.” In other words, some people feel that reporting crime may put them at risk of being a victim of crime. This is their reality.


While the neighbourhoods I work in are brimming with diversity, creativity, and immeasurable assets, so too are these neighbourhoods peppered with individuals who are marginalized by race, class, language, and lack of opportunities. Residents may not report crime as they feel disenfranchised, don’t want to attract “trouble,” don’t want to reinforce stereotypes, or do not feel anyone will listen anyways. Many residents emigrate from countries where authorities are untrustworthy and corrupt and don’t yet believe they can trust authorities. When it comes to strategizing how we can encourage more reporting, I think there are deeper layers that haven’t yet been broached, solutions to which must burrow into the veneer of trust building, cultural readiness, language barriers, and a feeling of responsibility to build a safe community.

Power & Being in the “Know”

Another theory I propose revolves around power, with a capital “P.” There’s no other way to say this than just as it is: Many people like gossip, secrets, and being in the know. As Michel Foucault once said “knowledge is power” and in my experience in trying to collect taboo information, I would agree to the extent of tattooing this proverb on my forearm. If you’re living in a rougher neighbourhood and you know that your neighbour is running a drug house and he knows that you know…your conscious choice not to report this can actually provide you with a (false or real) sense of safety under someone’s protective wing…an “I’ll scratch your back if your scratch mine” scenario.

Vertical Neighbourhoods

Another root cause for underreporting can be attributed to living in very closer quarters- this mass of vertical neighbourhoods that scatter the topography of Ottawa. Living in social housing buildings brings the benefit of connectedness and tight-knit community, yet it can also be a tumultuous relationship with living space stacked upon living space. We can appreciate why criminal activity is underreported if we understand these living conditions as vertical neighbourhoods and gain an appreciation of the stressors that come part and parcel with this.

How timely, that as I write this a brand new iPhone & Android App is launched by Push.com which creates a virtual safe space for people to report crime at the push of a button (as reported by the Ottawa Citizen, Feb.1st, 2012 http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/2012/02/01/new-app-to-report-crime-anonymously) with the view to empower residents to report crime through photos and video and have authorities respond immediately. But can all of the above-mentioned problems be solved with the simple tap of a button? I’ll hope that this will increase reporting; however the problem runs deeper than convenience. There’s no ‘genie’ app yet. But I remain optimistic.



Building Prevention, one meeting at a time

December 7, 2011

Last Thursday at the “Growing Our Neighbourhoods” Learning Forum it was fabulous to see the Together for Vanier Working Group on Beautification speak about all the incredible work that they have done in the four short years they have been in existence. 

“Beautification” was created by CPO after the community survey in Vanier.

Francine is in the front on the right

  When Mike was analysing the results, he group together a number of issues – from broken sidewalks to grafitti to dog dirt into a category which he called “beautification.”  He clearly hit the nail on the head, because once we got the group going, it grew wings and flew.  After a few meetings, I was happily replaced as chair by a community leader and the rest is history!

The group has done amazing things: park clean ups, a community garden, a walking club, flowers in parks and sidewalks as well as great support for the creation of the Vanier farmers market and the movies in the park and much much more.

Through it all, CPO has offered our support, our secret weapon to ensure that the group continues its forward momentum.  What’s our secret?  Francine!  CPO’s admin assistant has offered the simple, practical support of doing the minutes and agendas for the group which has ensured its growth and stability over the past four years. 

Often crime prevention is presented as the complex, academic, ideological endeavor.  But sometimes what the community really needs, is a little practical support.  Thanks Francine!

Police officers or social workers?

November 25, 2011

I have been very behind in posting on my blog, not because I haven’t had anything to write about, but because I’ve been too busy and rushed to actually write.  But, by colleague, Don Spicer, in Halifax has been writing an interesting blog – so please take a look:

 Police officers or social workers?

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