Crime requires social change, not more police officers

By Councillor Wayne Rothe

Crime in Alberta and in Canada has been dropping for consecutive 27 years, according to criminologist Chris Hay, who presented to 60 people at a Spruce Grove crime-prevention forum Sept. 19.

Hay, who has an extensive resume in policing and criminology, is executive director of the John Howard Society in Edmonton and consults with police services in North America and internationally.

Social media may suggest otherwise, but Hay said that most crime is done by 12- to 24-year-olds, with an average age of 16.5 and there are fewer people in that age group. “Demographics drives crime,” Hay said.

Hay said that “social development” is a more effective crime-prevention tool than adding more police officers. “Stop incarcerating poverty, stop incarcerating the homeless and stop incarcerating the mentally ill. Mandatory minimum punishment can actually increase crime,” Hay said, as offenders often leave jail as “better criminals.”

Hay cited the analogy of animals in the Serengeti in Africa – who make their identical trek every year. “Criminals are as predictable as wildebeests….Offenders are creatures of habit. They do what’s easy.”

Hay recommends using crime analysis to help police. With a few facts about criminal activity police can predict crimes with 74-per-cent accuracy. (The Spruce Grove-Stony Plain RCMP detachment employs a crime analyst.)

Hay said that six per cent of criminals do two thirds of crime, which is why crime drops significantly when serial offenders are taken off the street. Starting in October local RCMP will use a publically available online crime mapping tool showing where recent crimes have occurred.

Hay recommends attacking crime by combatting social issues such as unemployment, homelessness, poverty, dysfunctional families, poor parenting, family violence, substance abuse and poor school performance. “You can’t arrest your way out of this problem,” he stated. “Random patrols leads to random results.”

Hay cited an example where $500 spent on early-childhood education saved $28,000 through crime prevention (source: National Crime Prevention Council, 2002) and reported that $1 spent on quality preschool care saves an estimated $7 in policing, court time and social services costs (source: Government of Canada).

The problem, Hay said, is that the public wants instant results so citizens demand more police officers to combat crime. However, those additional officers achieve little as they “pound (offenders) with the justice system.” He admitted that social strategies may not deliver meaningful change for 20 or 30 years.

Questions and answers from the forum will be posted on the City of Spruce Grove’s website.

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