EFUS guidebook on local safety audits helps Canadian city to launch its community crime prevention activities

“When we began the activities of our Community Safety and Crime Prevention Advisory Committee at the beginning of this year, we felt that we would need to put our work on the basis of a thorough understanding of the actual situation in Summerside”, Rev. Dr. Andrew Richardson, the committee’s chairman, told EFUS. Theguidance on local safety audits, he explained, was of great help, as it explained how take obtain such a knowledge base and how take everybody on board.

Summerside is a city of 20 000 in habitants on Prince Edward Island, a small Canadian provinces in the very east of the country. On international comparison the small city with its harbour and beaches would probably be considered very calm. This does of course not assure that it doesn’t have its problems and especially that there is no feeling of insecurity. “There is a concern out there that the perception of crime is high, the cities are dangerous”, Richardson told the newspaper the Guardian. “A good community is a safe community, but we are often too reactive and concentrated on punishing and we wanted to switch to a more proactive and preventive approach”, he explained EFUS.

In response the Community Safety and Crime Prevention Advisory Committee was set up at the end of 2008 by the city’s mayor and the councillor for safety. In its advisory function it reports to the city council through police services committee. It is responsible for developing programmes and activities on safety and the prevention of crime in the community, for facilitating cooperation with city departments, other advisory committees, boards of education and any other organization of relevance and for acknowledging the action and activities of these groups who can contribute to developing a community consensus on appropriate strategies for safety and crime prevention issues.

In a nutshell, the committee mobilises the community on crime prevention, which is reflected in its composition: A former director of the police academy, a social worker specialised on addictions and, a lawyer, representatives of the church, the school board, the police, the attorney’s office, a women’s associations, youth clubs, charity organisations and the local development agency. The core idea is that community’s safety is best placed with all stakeholders of the community to be effective. Each service of the city should in its field take into account crime prevention issues. Summerside intuitively knows that prevention is not a specialist’s task but everybody’s effort. The city lives the participative approach the guidance recommends.

“What our committee wanted to do was to take that perception and test it against the reality. We didn’t want to be knee jerk and just react to it. We actually wanted to know what the situation was.” Dedicated to evidence based decisions and inspired by the guide book Richardson and his colleagues launched process of analysing offences, crime and the fear of crime. This audit is run by a subgroup of the committee. Following the basic steps of the guide they collected firstly available statistics. Then they turned to the community, talked about the project on newspapers, TV and approached different actors and groups like the chamber of commerce, the Rotary club, senior and youth associations. The team brought each time a questionnaire, which is a first step towards a victimisation survey and most importantly helps to shed light on the feeling of insecurity. The first phase, the wide and shallow analysis, will soon be completed after 4-5 months of intensive work. First results will be presented at a public meeting in November and a draft report submitted to the city council.

Before proposing a strategy to the community next year, several issues will be analysed greater detail in second phase, a narrow and deep investigation. The audit is also not conceived as a one shot initiative. Looking through practices of other cities for inspiration, Richardson had noticed that most programmes were never really evaluated. It is therefore planned to also make use of the audit tool in the future to evaluate the measures undertaken and to re-adjust the city’s initiatives.

Today, the committee already knows: Theft with a damage of less then 5000$ is on the rise. They are often drug related; young adults are often perpetuators and cause a high feeling of insecurity especially among the large senior population. Violent crime however is very rare. It is too early to talk about recommendations yet, but simple things could be done, Richardson explains. People could lock their doors for example. But again, they would feel insecure, if it were necessary to lock doors…

Richardson had received the guide book from the Canadian National Crime Prevention Centre, who had co-initiated and funded the tool. The initiative was generally very well received in Summerside, which does not prevent single dissatisfied voices. The process of the audit has allowed reinforcing links between actors and especially functioned as a focal point for initiates that weren’t in the loop before.

Looking back on his experience until today, Richardson says he can recommend the guidebook. It is clear, simple, makes sense. At the beginning he feared the book would be too much focussed on Europe, but he disocvered that it condensed general principals that are universal applicable. It is the philosophy behind it and the process it described that he appreciated most. And the international outlook, not obvious for a local problem, was actually very helpful. “First we thought it is only us dealing with type of issues and then we discovered that there is a whole international community out there. This is reassuring and provides plenty of ideas.”

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  • Link:Article on the city of Summerside using the guide book in the newspaper “The Guardian”