Ounce of Crime Prevention Worth Tons of Police, Courts, Jails

Article excerpt

BARBARA HALL

Chair, National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention

We can't continue to react to criminal activities and/or perceived increases in crime rates. Reactive measures -- police, courts, and corrections -- are too costly, both in financial and social terms. We need a strategic plan for crime prevention is needed. Enter the National Crime Prevention Centre, launched in 1994 with a five-year plan and a $32 million annual budget. Working with community partners, the Centre helps prevent crime by funding innovative programs and interventions, from drop-in centres in remote communities to the Toronto Drug Treatment Centre. Address to the Canadian Club of Toronto, March 8, 1999.

As a community worker, probation officer, lawyer and municipal politician, I've worked with many of you in this room to make our community safer. A better place to live.

Since last June, when the minister of justice and the solicitor general appointed me to chair the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention, I've had the opportunity to take "our" Toronto experience to the national level, working with people in every corner of Canada. It's been exciting working with people all across this country. Living in Toronto for so many years, I sometimes thought "coast to coast" meant from the Humber to the Don. It doesn't.

The name "The National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention" is quite a mouthful. Maybe appropriately so, for it describes a proactive approach to a big issue. It's our national government saying that we cannot continue to deal with crime primarily through reactive measures -- the apprehension, sentencing, incarceration and rehabilitation (sometimes) of offenders. We can't continue with these reactive measures because we can't afford it!

We can't afford it in human terms. Every crime has a victim. And as someone who has been the victim of a violent crime, I know the pain, the disruption and the fear which crime leaves in its wake.

We can't afford it in community terms. The fear of crime -- even among those who have not been victims themselves -- also remains high. And this fear can, in many ways, be as harmful as crime itself. It can disrupt lives, prevent people from enjoying their community and cause decay and abandoned neighbourhoods.

And if that's not enough reason, we can't afford it in economic terms. Reactive measures -- police, courts and corrections -- plus the personal and physical costs and the loss of earnings due to crime cost Canadians approximately $45 billion a year. That's more than the combined spending on education by every government in Canada.

I mentioned the fear of crime. Here there is a startling gap between perception and reality.

A recent report released by a City of Toronto task force indicates that 43% of Toronto residents believe that crime is increasing. An almost equal number feel unsafe walking at night. But as fear increases the reality is that crime isn't getting worse. It's getting better.

Here in Toronto, recent police statistics show that the crime rate has been dropping steadily, even violent crime. Nationally, the figures are equally encouraging. The most current statistics indicate that police-reported crimes fell by 5% in 1997 -- the lowest rate since 1990 and the sixth decrease in a row. Violent crime declined for the fifth consecutive year. Perhaps even more encouraging is that these recent decreases follow 15 years of increases.

The credit for these developments rests on many shoulders. But particular credit is due to police forces across Canada, including the Toronto Police and Chief Boothby. The partnership between the police and communities is showing impressive results, results we can all be proud of, and for which dedicated officers like Chief Boothby can be especially proud.

Another contradiction exists with respect to violence against women. …