January 20, 2021

How to ignore the police while promoting safety

Council will soon be debating a motion from Green Party Councillor Michael Wiebe for A Community Safety and Well-being Framework.

Its aim:

…. to provide strategic direction for working together with community and key stakeholders to make the best use of available resources to enhance community safety and well-being across broad and critical priority areas, such as personal health, social development, safe public spaces, homes and amenities, crime prevention and reduction, transportation safety, climate safety and emergency management.

I remember motions like that when I was on Council (in fact, I moved some of them).  They’re so broadly worded and well-meaning that it looks, at first glance, difficult to vote against.  Hence the need to be cautious.  What, you will want to know, are the unstated implications?.

From a staff point-of-view, the reaction is likely to be ‘Oh gawd, another of those time-filling, resource-eating, mind-numbing requests that hopefully will go nowhere – unless, of course, it can be used to increase our budget.”

From senior government’s point-of-view, it might look to be an opportunity to download some responsibilities for open-ended social programs in health and welfare otherwise out of the city’s jurisdiction.  ‘You want to take on mental health in the name of crime prevention?  Please do – here’s a program or two to fund.’

From the point-of-view of community activists, it’s another opportunity to control the agenda, especially when you’re being given special mention:

The framework’s development and implementation should be reflective of the community and include multi-sectoral representation and engage people with lived experience and knowledge responding to the diverse needs of community members..

From the point-of-view of those whose responsibility it is already for community safety – like, say, the police department – they will check the motion to see if there’s any mention of those on the front line and how they will be involved.  And in this case, sure enough, not a word.

Oh wait, there is one mention of the police:

According to a Vancouver Police Department report in October 2020, crime rose in the following categories in 2020 compared to 2019:

• The number of homicides increased: 14 in 2020 vs. 9 in 2019.
• Serious assaults, which includes assault with a weapon, assault
causing bodily harm and aggravated assault, are up by 14%.
• Intimate partner violence is 4.6% higher than 2019.
• Anti-Asian hate crime incidents increased by 138%.
• Break-and-enters to businesses increased by 18%.
• Arson incidents increased by 39%.
• Assaults against police officers have gone up 47%.

Note those categories that saw the largest increases in crime rates:

  • No. 1: anti-Asian hate crime incidents – up 138%
  • No. 2: assaults again police officers – up 47%
  • No. 3: arson incidents – up 39%

One has to be cautious with these kind of stats: what was the base from which the increase occurred, and what’s the definition of ‘incident’ and ‘assault’?  Nonetheless, when there are assaults of any kind against those whose responsibility is community safety, and whose effectiveness is based on trust and respect, there’s an issue here.  But in era of ‘defund the police’, it’s not likely to result in increased resources for the safety of those whose first responsibility is the safety of us.

Or possibly I misjudge.  Perhaps in the upcoming debate, there will be a recognition of the police’s role, that councilors will state publicly their respect and support for those accountable for community safety, that they want the police officers’ input in this process, at least in equal measure with those with lived experience.

Because one thing I did learn in office: when it comes to considering council priorities, ‘peace and order’ is the most important lived experience for most of the public most of the time.


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  1. Civil society is one of the most important facets of Canadian life. I respect those who put their lives on the line to serve and protect, and we all expect that they carry out their work with the highest respect for human rights. We need to address the root causes of public disorder, addiction and mental illness that lead to homelessness. Can’t solve it by defunding the police. Senior levels of government need to step up on mental illness and health (addictions).

    Public disorder, theft, vandalism, and rough sleeping are issues in many of our local shopping areas and it’s impacting real and perceived safety. Talk to hardworking people trying to run streetfront businesses in our city. They employ thousands and provide us with essential goods and services. They are on the front lines of some of these issues and it’s breaking many of them. Ming Wo recently closed it’s flagship Chinatown store because of the daily losses from shoplifting. In the span of a week I saw three thefts from cafes and stores in South Granville – all linked to addiction, mental illness and homelessness.

  2. Yikes. This is pretty much “COV resolves to fix public policy”. And in a cooperative and collaborative way.

    When doing anything in public policy, one always has to keep an eye on how one part affects another, and a good policy maker will have that knowledge of inter-relationships. But no one can fix everything all at once. You have to do things a piece at a time. That is why the concept of continuous improvement is so useful in public policy because it forces the policy maker to think in terms of steps and also in terms of achievable goals.

  3. Watch Fight for the Soul of Seattle, a very insightful 90-minute documentary that has almost 3.5m views.

    From a review (https://southseattleemerald.com/2020/12/23/opinion-we-cant-win-the-fight-for-the-soul-of-seattle-from-the-sidelines/):

    Fight for the Soul of Seattle concludes with Johnson’s solution: a tough-love, involuntary commitment facility where addicts get detox, treatment, and at least six months of supportive housing to break the cycle of use/sobriety/relapse. He has blueprints showing the layout in a sylvan setting and is frank about the cost (astronomical).

    Predictably, the response to Fight for the Soul of Seattle has come down along two sides. The voice of lesser Seattle and the suburbs applauds Johnson’s no-nonsense, clear-eyed analysis of what happens when bleeding hearts take over city leadership…

    … the political left views Johnson as a tool of Sinclair (the corporate owners of KOMO), pressing the conservative narrative of urban decay under progressive leadership. …Crosscut’s Katie Wilson describes it as “the worst kind of poverty porn, calculated to arouse and exploit disgust rather than sympathy.”