In any survey, including the community meetings held over the last year, the number one issue that comes up is the need to reduce crime in the community. For me personally, it comes up in phone calls, and in conversations with people who see me downtown or at the grocery store, or who drop by for a visit. It's a no-brainer, really, people want to feel safe where they live, they want to feel comfortable in their yards, they want to feel safe when they're out in the community, they want to feel safe in parks and playgrounds. And I share their concerns - I too want to live in a safe neighbourhood.
I don't know anyone on council who hasn't wrestled with this issue. It's one of the reasons why the single biggest expenditure in the budget is for police services - it's a priority, and we emphasize that priority by allocating financial resources accordingly. We've also invested in longer term initiatives like the Hub project, which tries to coordinate efforts at preventative levels. Unfortunately, longer term initiatives like the Hub take longer to show results, and people want problems to be fixed now.
I was interested in the Saskatoon police chief's comments following the release a few weeks ago of national crime statistics, when once again Saskatchewan communities ranked at the top - one of the lists no city wants to be at the top of. He said that the underlying causes of crimes are poverty, racism and poor housing - all problems that can't be solved by more boots on the ground.
These are also problems that point more toward dealing with situations before a crime has actually happened, not afterward, and they are problems that require the entire community to take action. It's only common sense that putting more effort into prevention rather than punishment will pay greater dividends.
Of these three areas, poverty and racism are outside the scope of city council. However, the third, poor housing, is something that council has some control of. I've been advocating for improved housing standards for as long as I've been on council, even trying to coordinate such basics as placarding houses as unfit to live in where the water has been turned off, so that these houses are not available as rentals. I've also advocated for a landlord registry, and for quicker action against derelict properties. Again, these are not quick solutions, since we are often restricted by court proceedings, but I think that there are many situations where council could be less forgiving, and set our expectations higher. I've also suggested that we look into incentive programs to develop vacant lots within current neighbourhoods - these are lots that are already serviced, and everyone would benefit by encouraging new housing on what can otherwise be an eyesore in an area. You can see the positive results in any Habitat for Humanity home.
To answer my original, and somewhat rhetorical question - of course there is no magic wand. But we, the community as a whole, need to look at the whole scope of the problem, look at a wider scope of potential solutions, and do something wherever we can, not just with empty promises, but with real action.
"Prevention is a whole lot less costly than treatment, and maybe more effective." - Debbie Adair