Bradley and Waller: Ottawa must invest in crime prevention techniques

Some believe that more police means less violence, but the facts do not support this view.

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Ottawa is in a municipal election campaign where citizens want more security. It is not surprising after many years of increased police budgets without a significant reduction in shootings or violent victimization.

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Clearly the most effective and affordable way to reduce violence is to stop it before it happens. This means the next mayor and city council must adopt and implement a plan to dramatically reduce violence using research and lessons learned from successes elsewhere, thereby reducing the need for expensive emergency services.

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While some voters believe that more police equals less violence, the facts do not support this view. Indeed, if more police and prisons made cities safer, American cities would be the safest in the world, which they are not.

In 2019, Ontario’s Police Services Act was amended to require Ottawa and all municipalities in Ontario to develop a community safety plan. The law requires cities to identify and act on factors contributing to « crime, victimization, substance abuse, drug overdose and suicide. » But Ottawa’s plan fails to focus on street violence or proactive prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.

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Moreover, Ottawa’s plan misses the good news that violence can be significantly and affordably reduced. This is based on evidence from randomized controlled trials, working groups and national commissions. The evidence is widely available from bodies such as the US Department of Justice and the World Health Organization, but has not yet been used in Ottawa.

Ottawa should invest in proven actions to stop violence before it happens. These include:

• hire and train social workers and mentors to reach young men before they engage in violence;

• recruiting social workers to join surgeons in hospital emergency rooms to ensure that victims of violence do not return;

• help young men with problem solving and emotional regulation to control the anger and toxic masculinity that too often hurt others;

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• Provide vocational training and employment opportunities in areas where violence originates.

One in seven women who graduate from post-secondary education do so with the traumatic experience of having been the victim of sexual violence. These tragic incidents have many repercussions on their lives and safety. Schools and cities can do more to end this sexual violence by following evidence-based recommendations. For example, Our Campus, Our Safety requires successful participation in workshops that have been shown to change social norms about consent and empower people to act as spectators.

Putting the solutions into practice requires new leadership and new skills. Unfortunately, Ontario has done little more than produce a brochure to help cities plan. Fortunately, international guidelines show how to adapt investments locally and cities like Glasgow, Scotland have shown us the way by reducing violence by 50% in just a few years. The priority for the City of Ottawa must be to hire already competent public servants and train others in smart planning and the use of prevention science.

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We estimate that Ottawa will need $15 million a year to embark on a path to a 50% reduction in violence. Ontario has not yet taken over. The federal government can help, but only with pilot funding, which results in projects dying out within a few years as stakeholders reach their full potential. So Ottawa politicians will have to work with cities like Toronto, already committed to prevention, to get changes from the federal and provincial governments.

More of the same for Ottawa will only result in more costly emergency responses. Tackling crime smartly will reduce casualties and sensational headlines and make Ottawa a peaceful place to live, study and succeed.

jeffrey bradley is a doctoral candidate in legal studies at Carleton University. Dr Irvin Waller is professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa and author of Science and Secrets of Ending Violent Crime.

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