Saskatoon is second only to Regina in Canada’s crime severity index, despite our crime rate dropping for the seventh straight year – a reduction of nearly 11,000 crimes annually from the peak of 2003. However, there’s still is a lot of crime on Saskatoon’s streets, with 25,600 events reported.
Whose fault is it? Police Chief Clive Weighill says crime is a reality of prairie life: "Until we can change the social contributors to crime we’re not going to see decreases across the Prairie provinces," he said in an interview with The StarPhoenix.
"We have a large segment of our society that’s marginalized, living in poverty, poor housing, reduced availability for employment. Unfortunately, crime is a linked outcome to this.
It’s going to take some big changes to the social strata across the Prairie provinces."
I agree. What’s troubling is that no one has much of a plan to deal with it. How do you change the culture of a community away from criminal or anti-social behaviour once it has become the norm?
A lot needs to change.
The Americans have been trying to tackle this problem for decades, with limited success. The Head Start program, whose goal is to prepare for kindergarten children growing up in poverty stricken neighbourhoods, has been around since 1965. Some cities have been known to fire all of the staff in a school if test scores are too low.
In Saskatoon, we see our community schools trying to make a difference by providing food and clothing programs. While both Head Start and our community schools have had some success, both are too limited to tackle the wide range of issues that contribute to poverty.
The Harlem Children’s Zone has taken a different approach. It’s an education/ housing/crime prevention approach that provides assistance to children from birth all the way to the job market – a much larger commitment compared to providing preschool education or lunch programs.
The Harlem project is a 22year commitment to ensure that those with the most obstacles to overcome have a reliable support system.
The family traditionally has played this role. However, as we see the disintegration of stable family structures in some parts of our society, someone else needs to step up. Would you rather have the Terror Squad or a Harlem Children’s Zone stepping into that gap
The latter is tackling all the issues that stand in the way of a child’s success – housing, education, public safety, health care, transportation and food safety.
The interconnected problems that Chief Weighill mentions need a comprehensive solution. The idea is to help children as early in their lives as possible, and to create a community of adults around them who understand what it takes to help children succeed.
This is an option that doesn’t rely on new capital projects or resources, but moving people out of silos to become part of an integrated solution. If we are honest with ourselves, it’s not going to happen any time soon. Even if we started today, the payoff will be more than a decade away.
Saskatchewan does not have a poverty reduction strategy. So, while a variety of projects are undertaken, they seem to fall under the category of, "Let’s spend a lot of money and hope it works."
Slightly more than 15 per cent of Saskatchewan residents fall under the poverty line, among them 35,000 children. Poverty reduction conversations often resolve around the need for governments to provide more in direct payments, but there are many exciting economic empowerment ideas across North America that are providing sustainable jobs.
Housing is my area of interest, but I know that without an integrated plan of training, job creation, food security, health and safe, affordable housing, you won’t achieve the results required to make another big dent in the 26,000 crimes we see in Saskatoon.
The greater the investment upstream in poverty prevention and giving people good economic opportunities, the less money you spend downstream on policing and corrections.
Police have made great progress in crime reduction. It’s time for the provincial government to step up and work on the rest of the factors that will make Saskatoon and Regina safer cities to live in.