At last week'c council meeting I was pleased to propose, and to have the rest of council support, a proposal to the provincial government to expand the current SCAN program to have staff in Prince Albert as well as in Saskatoon and Regina. And I had no problem with amending the motion to include having a liquor inspector located here as well, since that aligns with our increasing awareness of the underlying factor of alcohol abuse in so many of our community problems.
SCAN stands for Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods, and is a program run through the Ministry of Justice. It's built on the premise that the problems in many neighbourhoods can be directly linked to one or more problem residences or businesses, and that taking action against these particular problem locations can reduce overall crime in the neighbourhood.
The program recognizes that problem residences are most easily identified by the neighbours, who can observe habitual activities like multiple vehicles coming and going, but not staying long - the classic sign of a residence that's being used for drug trafficking. The police just don't have the resources to have personnel watching consistently, so having neighbours notice these things is making use of the people who have the most at stake. Reporting to SCAN is totally confidential, as well, which may reduce the risk of people not reporting for fear of retribution.
A SCAN referral doesn't mean that a residence or business is shut down immediately - warning letters to the property owner are usually the first step, unless the problem is acute enough to warrant immediate closure of the residence. But it focuses on removing the location of criminal activity, not trying to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute individuals. In many cases, of course, the true source of the criminal activity is several steps away - what SCAN does is make it more difficult for criminals to have a place to operate out of, which makes the neighbourhood safer as a result.
The underlying premise of the program is sound; the problem for Prince Albert is that the staff are too far away to respond quickly and efficiently to problems here, and that's what my motion was about - encouraging the province to expand a program with a good success rate to a city that needs it.
In my fourteen years on council, I've spent quite a bit of time working on making neighbourhoods safer, and I've found that all too often, it's a single house that's the source of problems. And I've had many people thank me when the criminal activity based out of that house stops - the whole neighbourhood benefits. I know that one house that I can see from my front door used to have people coming and going at all hours, with loud parties on the weekends. It was finally placarded because the water was shut off, but it was a long and painful process for those of us in the neighbourhood, and for the police. Perhaps if SCAN had been in place then, it would have been quicker. And now that I'm seeing suspicious activity going on in a building that I can see from my kitchen window, I'm hoping that using SCAN will help, not just me, but my whole neighbourhood.
We often hear complaints about how people don't look out for their neighbours any more. Well, this is a chance for us to try to bring some of that sense back. Just as you watch for strange activities near their home when you know your neighbours are away, SCAN encourages you to watch for symptoms of habitual criminal activity, and gives you a place to call. I just hope that soon, the number to call will be a local one.
"You can observe a lot by just watching." - Yogi Berra