STEPHENSON: Halifax crime: Act from the bottom up
Halifax didn’t get to be a crime capital overnight, so don’t expect a sudden wave-of-the-wand recovery to reduce violence in this city.
If only it were that simple.
Truth is, there are two ways to come at this problem: From the top down, with strong action from the police and the corrections system; and from the bottom up, by building better communities that provide better outcomes for at-risk children.
There will be no shock and no excuses this time around, as the latest Statistics Canada report on annual crime rates showed that Halifax is bucking a national trend that saw the violent crime severity index drop in 2011.
While the index dropped four per cent overall in 2011, compared with the previous year, Halifax saw a jump of six per cent in the index over the same time period. (The violent crime severity index measures all police-reported incidents of some 40 violent crimes, from muggings to murders, but gives more weight to the most serious crimes.)
As for the murder rate, Halifax sits in second place behind Winnipeg. While the average for murders per 100,000 people was 1.7 among Canadian cities, Halifax’s score of 4.4 per cent was more than double that rate.
There were 19 murders in Halifax in 2011 and 75 shootings. So far this year, there have been 39 shootings in the city, including a jaw-dropping three shootings in three days during a spree in May.
There is no suggestion that anybody is in denial anymore about whether or not Halifax has a crime problem, and more specifically a gun problem.
That wasn’t always the case. Just a few years ago, the police were complaining that media reports were fixated on an old Statistics Canada report that labelled Halifax the most violent city in Canada. Erroneously, said the police, compared to some other report or another.
In 2008, city council received a report from Don Clairmont, the sociologist who chaired the city’s Task Force on Violence. Clairmont thundered from the podium that day, blasting away at what he described as “namby-pamby” inaction from council in tackling crime-related problems in city neighbourhoods.
Still, it took a few more years of challenging crime statistics before the all-court press city hall has now applied to the growing gun problem in Halifax.
Fiddling around and comparing the drama of annual murder statistics is a mug’s game. Halifax police told Haligonians Tuesday, in the wake of the new report, that the situation has improved so far this year, with a 30 per cent drop in the homicide rate in 2012. Only seven so far this year.
I was more interested to hear about increased efforts to get guns off the streets, and how police have seized 30 per cent more guns so far in 2012, compared with the first six months of last year.
I have no doubts, through efforts such as the new Integrated Guns and Gangs Unit, and other initiatives they are smart enough not to make public, that the police are doing all they can to get the gun problem under control.
When you have a shooting at the front entrance to a children’s hospital, and another one on a busy street like Quinpool Road, we don’t need a national crime report to tell us this isn’t an American inner-city crime drama on television. This is our very own Halifax reality show.
At the risk of sounding pessimistically dramatic, the prevalence of guns in Halifax also creates the worry that we are only a short step away from the kind of shoot-up that occurred this month in Toronto, where gang violence erupted at a neighbourhood barbecue, with deadly consequences.
As individuals, we can do two things. First, we can pay our taxes, which fund police and corrections programs that work on violence from the top down.
Second, we can take a more active role from the bottom up. Every literacy program, every food bank, every volunteer in a school, in a church, in an addiction or outreach program, helps to build a better option for a child or young adult on the brink of choosing the right path, or the wrong path.
Every brick that offers support to combat poverty and lack of opportunity and employment is a brick worth putting into the community wall that builds our society.
We can stand by and say there is nothing we can do, that it’s all up to the police.
But there is nothing to stop us from choosing to do more from the bottom up.