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?

The complexities of occupation

November 4, 2011

Last Friday I was surprised when a pair of scruffy looking young men appeared at the door to my office at City Hall — which overlooks the “occupation” in Confederation Park.  They told me that they were from Occupy Ottawa and looking for Crime Prevention.  My heart sank for a moment as I thought they were going to occupy my office but in fact they were looking for help.

They looked embarrassed but admitted that they were having health and safety issues, well, drug and mental health issues, well actually they had fellow occupiers who upset the others by self mutilating then refusing to seek treatment and well, they were afraid of the skin head (or skin heads, I wasn’t sure).  

Having recovered from my surprise, I was feeling cheeky, so I suggested that they call the police about the drugs.  But they seemed to have ideological issues with that.  So I did try to be helpful and referred them to the homeless outreach services and the mental health crisis team.  But really they seemed to want someone to just take some of their problems away.

I tried to explain to them that people have rights and that includes the mentally ill, even if that is inconvenient.  They wanted professionals to deal with their problems, but I had to explain that unless there was a situation of imminent, serious, danger, little can be done unless a client agrees.

If they get nothing else, the Occupiers will learn some tough lessons about the complexity of social issues especially issues of homelessness, drugs and crime.  If they have nothing better to do, it’s probably more productive than playing video games in their parents’ basements. 

But what I don’t get, I really cannot accept, is why they feel that being inclusive means including skin heads who are known for violence, racism and homophobia.  I have a really fundamental problem with that.

Gang Forum – or why we need to talk

October 25, 2011

One of the journalists I spoke to leading up to our gang forum last night asked me why we were doing an event on gangs, hadn’t we already done that?  Well, yes, I think an issue like this merits an ongoing discussion.  The healthy development of our youth, especially the youth in our communities who struggle with poverty and exclusion, has to matter to all of us.

If you couldn’t come last night, you can read the research.  Ottawa gang members seem to have some important common characteristics.  Most have experienced trauma, many are oldest sons, all were living in poverty, most started acting aggressively from a very young age, all were actively recruited by older gang membrers.  Our next step is to use this important information to help parents, families and community services.

One thing that seemed to get missed in the question and answer session is the emergence in Ottawa of “Juggalos.”  As Katharine Kelly said, this was the scariest interview she did, and as St. Srg Mark Patterson said, it  looks like there are about 60 associates in Ottawa.  We tend to stereotype gangs as associated with immigrants, the Juggalos most definitely don’t fit that pattern. Its something that we need to learn more about.

Good Teachers are Good Crime Prevention

October 5, 2011

For the last two days CPO hosted a Master Trainer session so that all four school Boards in Ottawa can deliver the anti-violence program “The Fourth R” “Les A, B, C des Relations.” 

It’s a great program which has scientifically proven results in changing adolescent behaviours with regards to risky behaviours associated with substance abuse, sexuality and personal relationships.  Aimed at grades 7, 8 and 9 (11-15 year olds) it uses the health part of the Phys Ed class to work through ideas, role plays, refusal skills, values clarification to help youth work through how they want to handle the complex world they are entering.

But that’s just technical!  What I love about the program is the commitment, the enthusiasm,  and the skills of the teachers who day in and day out work with our young people in the classroom.  The teachers we have worked with over the past 4 years have been amazing!  It’s a tough job to teach 13 years olds about complex issues, and I have been truly impressed by their capacity to get right in there and connect with students.

And the other thing I love about “The Fourth R” is how efficient it is.  The teachers are going to be in the classroom anyhow – so why not use that opportunity to teacher healthy relationships skills!  Training teachers is much more economical than sending in outsiders to the school to do special workshops.  And the teachers stay and develop long-term relationships with the kids.  At the end of that day, isn’t that what it is all about?  Helping kids develop healthy attachments to school and healthy attitudes towards sex, drug, violence and alcohol?

Preventing Crime – as easy as pie!

September 26, 2011

When parents ask me what they can do to ensure that their kids don’t get involved with the law the best, easiest suggestion I always make is that they need to eat dinner with their kids.  Have a family dinner tonight – in the USA today is  Family DayA Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children 

I am not being sarcastic!  It is statistically proven and effective.  Parenting is complicated and we are all looking for complicated advice, but this is not complicated and multiple studies prove it.  Have dinner tonight. It is one of the few things that parents can fairly easily do that has a HUGE impact on our kids.

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