What would be the ingredients for an innovative LCO study of comprehensive approaches to community safety?

I.    INTRODUCTION

The Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) is facilitating a one-day expert forum on comprehensive approaches to community safety. The forum is intended to be an active, participatory conversation engaging a broad spectrum of sectors, perspectives and experiences.

The forum is designed to bring diverse expertise to bear on how the promotion of community safety can be better integrated across ministries, departments, levels of government, sectors, agencies, disciplines and community organizations to ensure our communities are safe, resilient, inclusive and cohesive. 

The objective of the forum is to assist the LCO in deciding the issues it might usefully consider were the LCO to undertake an innovative project on integrated approaches to community safety.

The forum is premised on the widely accepted view that neither the criminal justice system nor social service providers can, in isolation, address the root causes of crime. The individual, familial, community and structural causes of crime are multi-dimensional and complex and the responses must be equally complex and multi-layered.  

Integrated approaches are increasingly being discussed and employed in Canada and internationally. Yet there are many difficulties in implementing integrated approaches, particularly those which engage multi-sectoral partnerships.

For this reason, the LCO is asking questions about design, including relating to which government and community structure(s) in Ontario can facilitate and sustain such co-ordinated and collaborative approaches and overcome some of the barriers to their effective implementation. 

The decision to hold this one-day forum was in response to a number of recent events and public discussions relating to community safety. The LCO is a provincial entity with offices situated on the York University campus in Toronto, close to a neighbourhood that has faced challenges in relation to safety.  Just over a year ago, the Danzig Street shootings of a child and a young adult at a community party in Scarborough, struck at the heart of Toronto.  This violent incident, along with other tragic shooting deaths involving socially excluded youth in various Toronto neighbourhoods, raised questions for many organizations and public safety actors about whether these incidents could have been prevented. The LCO also asked itself whether there is a role for it to consider multi-disciplinary and integrated approaches to creating safe communities, with an emphasis on early-intervention and involvement of community leaders and organizations.

The LCO had also received a proposal from the Ontario Association of Police Services Board (OAPSB) to review the Police Services Act (PSA), including how community safety is addressed in that legislation. Discussions by the LCO’s Executive Director with the Executive Director of the OAPSB indicated that addressing community safety in a broader way than envisioned by the PSA would be of interest to the police. The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police provided information to the LCO about the initiatives already undertaken in the police context that reflect a more comprehensive approach. These and other developments in regard to law enforcement indicated that there would be value in the LCO, as an “impartial” facilitator, bringing together a range of multidisciplinary expertise in the area.  

Another impetus for this forum is the public conversation in recent years about the role of police in responding to community safety needs and issues outside of the criminal law, for example related to poverty, mental health, addictions and unsafe or inadequate housing.  In a deputation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, in March 2012, Dale McFee, former Chief of Police of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and then President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (currently Deputy Minister for Corrections and Policing in the Province of Saskatchewan) stated, for example, that only 27% of all calls received by his force were criminal in nature, and of those only 5% led to charges.  He described the remaining 73% of calls as relating to, among other things, antisocial behaviour, disturbances, housing, mental health and addictions.  He then posed the question: 

When I think of these issues and look deeper, I have to ask myself, “How many of these issues would police be considered the experts in?”  The answer is, most often, none.

The important recognition of the role and responsibility of non-criminal justice stakeholders, both governmental and non-governmental, in achieving community safety goes hand in hand with a policy shift toward developing and implementing comprehensive approaches and solutions.

This one-day LCO discussion is thus being held at a time when other provinces (such as Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec) and other entities within Ontario, including the OAPSB and the Ministry of Correctional Services and Community Safety (“MCSCS”), are also asking questions about the role of government in promoting and facilitating integrated multi-disciplinary strategies and partnerships to address risk and protective factors for crime.

Finally, particularly following the February 2012 release of the Report of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services (referred to as the “Drummond Report” in the name of the Chair, Don Drummond), there has been much public discussion about the cost of the criminal justice system, including the cost of policing.   Questions concerning the cost of policing are included in the MCSCS’ Future of Policing Advisory Committee discussions and are similarly included in the research being conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies’ expert panel on the Future of Canadian Policing Models.   The cost of policing and other criminal justice actors is not a focus for the LCO.  It is acknowledged, however, that increased participation in community safety by non-criminal justice actors as well as improved efficiencies (and outcomes) through integration are also part of the conversation, elsewhere, on reducing the costs associated with operating the criminal justice system.

 

II.    OVERVIEW OF THE BACKGROUND PAPER
 
This background paper:

  • sets out the guiding premises and values which underlie the LCO discussion;
  • briefly explains why the discussion is focused on municipal and provincial structures;
  • explores specific issues relating to the design and implementation of comprehensive approaches; and
  • proposes discussion questions for the forum, at which participants will be asked to consider selected questions in small groups and share their responses. 

The discussion questions are also listed in the executive summary for the forum, which can be found at http://www.lco-cdo.org/en/community-safety-event-background-paper. 

The responses to the questions will assist the LCO in determining whether or how it will undertake further research and recommendations for law and policy reform in this area.

 

III.    WHY IS THE LCO FOCUSING ON INTEGRATED APPROACHES?

A.    Basic Premises and Guiding Principles

The starting point for the LCO discussion is the view that integrated multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approaches are necessary to address the complex causes of crime, thus raising law and policy questions as to how best to operationalize these approaches.  This basic premise, described in some academic literature (Homel 2009) as having achieved “near universal” acceptance, is drawn from numerous domestic and international scholarly sources (including the Canadian Institute for the Prevention of Crime), international bodies (such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Crime), and provincial government platforms and documents.

The following is a chart of six basic premises on which the LCO discussion of comprehensive approaches is based, and six guiding principles for design and implementation which flow directly from these six basic premises.

Basic Premise Guiding Principle for Implementation
The root causes of crime are complex as are the solutions. Effective approaches must therefore be multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral, encompassing one or more overlapping individual, social, economic, health, environmental and structural causes of crime.
Ontario is diverse racially, culturally, economically, geographically.

Community crime prevention needs and priorities may vary widely across Ontario as do community strengths and resources.

Comprehensive approaches must be flexible and tailored to each community, respecting the diversity of cultural, political, social, economic, demographic and geographic realities.
Local authorities and community agencies and organizations are closest to the community safety problems and needs of their communities.  Local authorities and agencies play a critical leadership role.
Structural inequality and social exclusion are risk factors for offending and/or victimization. Inclusivity and substantive equality must inform any comprehensive approach, with particular attention to marginalized and excluded individuals and groups.
There are no “quick-fixes” for addressing root causes of crime or for effective targeted prevention efforts aimed at risk factors. Comprehensive crime prevention requires long-term, sustained solutions, insulated, to the extent possible, from political, economic and other change.  

Indicators for evaluating the progressive realization of defined outcomes of long-term initiatives will be an element of any comprehensive approach.

Social inclusion and cohesion are elements of a safe community.

Strengthening communities is an essential component of effective crime prevention and may include community capacity building. Civic engagement is critical. 

 

B.    Defining the Terms

What do we mean by “community”, “community safety”, “crime prevention” and “integration”?

 

1.    Community Safety

“Community” and “community safety” cannot be defined with precision. The political or geographic boundary or groups that will comprise the “community” in any community safety initiative will depend on context.  So, too, the community safety priorities identified will vary.  They may range, for example, from access to housing in one community, to alcoholism and substance abuse, inadequate health services or the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in another. 

A core concept of “community” in any discussion of “community safety”, however, “is the involvement of civil society at the local level” (United Nations Guidelines para. 5).  

A “safe” community is not only one in which community members live free of violence and crime, but also one in which they live free from the fear of violence and crime.  It is also a community based on respect and the social, economic, cultural and political inclusion of all members. A “safe community” fundamentally concerns not only physical safety, but also quality of life, individual and community well-being and community cohesion and resilience.

The vision of a safe community, and any government structures and partnership processes which are engaged to achieve this end, is thus informed by the guiding principles of inclusivity, respect for diversity, substantive equality and civic participation. 

In the context of crime prevention, these guiding principles require particular attention to those most excluded, marginalized or disempowered, including women, children and youth, racialized persons, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, a