Bill Blair: A police chief looking beyond the easy answers

TheGlobeandMail.com – commentary/editorials
1 August 2012.

There is surely a strong temptation, and likely pressure from within his own force, for a police chief to use a spate of gang violence to make the case for more funding and more officers. It is to the considerable credit of Toronto’s Bill Blair that he has eschewed such attempts at empire-building in favour of trying to figure out how he can do more with what he has.

At a meeting this week with The Globe’s editorial board, Chief Blair offered a strikingly nuanced take on how to make troubled neighbourhoods safer. While lamenting the “depraved indifference” of shooters who indiscriminately opened fire at a block party, and a gang culture in which notoriety can be seen as something to cultivate, he dismissed the idea – propagated by federal and municipal politicians seeking to score law-and-order points – that the criminal justice system alone will make streets safer. As he put it: “You can’t arrest your way out of this.”

In welcome contrast to Mayor Rob Ford’s mockery of “hug-a-thug” programs, Chief Blair underscored the importance of intervention aimed at preventing youth from entering gangs. Through measures such as recruiting new officers from at-risk communities, and setting up a summer employment program for kids who live in them, Toronto’s force is already making considerable efforts. Still, Chief Blair acknowledged the need to continue finding ways to strengthen the relationship between police and social services, and to better understand and engage with the areas and demographics that suffer most from crime.

Mistrust of police does not make that easy. But there must also be some onus on the communities themselves. While there are undoubtedly officers who are less enlightened than their chief, the leadership’s openness to working collaboratively to find solutions should be reciprocated. Leaders in neighbourhoods suffering high crime rates have a role to play, too, in crafting anti-gang policies. And they could do more to encourage co-operation with police in responding to violent crimes, which often is still lacking.

As Chief Blair emphasized, Toronto remains for the most part an unusually safe city. That message is important, he said, because there is a danger of law-abiding people becoming fearful of public spaces, which in turn could give criminals free rein. It also means that, rather than needing more resources, police should reallocate existing ones where they are most needed.

The question is how effectively they are deployed. And while that remains to be seen, with regard to areas that have become unsafe, it’s encouraging that Toronto’s chief is setting his mind to it in such a sophisticated manner.

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2 Comments

  1. Chief Blair of the Toronto Police has good motive. How do we break old habits to safe ourselves from a tiresome issue that Toronto and many other cities have been facing in Canada for over a decade? The answer to gang violence might not be simple to some but, with a little common sense, almost anyone can agree: we need to start “actually” implementing and using current policies and programs put into place.
    In the past and today, I have observed the way we deal with gang violence; both working in the field and being part of a community. From my observation, communities have attempted to implement programs and when they ‘failed’ we stop trying or gave up and our response has been to attempt something different or hire more law enforcement to control the issue. So when something doesn’t work the first few times we stop? My question to government and communities is why don’t we do that with potty training? I am willing to bet the officials in government and the communities with such a large gang problem who are trying to come up with a ‘new fix’ didn’t train their kids go to the bathroom on the first try, so why are we giving up on policies to keep youth out of gangs in such a hasty manner?
    It’s enlightening to see that individuals who have hired to enforce the law still have some form of duty to their communities and furthermore genuinely care about the well-being of their youth population. Much like is mentioned in the article, it is no surprise how police are seen in the youth community; so why don’t we change that image? Why don’t we start there? It is a well-known fact that youth often join gangs to become part of something larger, to be part of a family and to gain trust and respect. Contrary to popular believe, I think the answer is simple, why don’t we just develop ways to do this!
    Perhaps if we were actually using and spending more time on existing programs, for example Hug a Thug or Youth Rocks, in order to help keep children out of jails or out of gangs we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Chief Blair is right, “The question is how effectively programs and policies are deployed”; why fix something that isn’t broken? Why not try harder? Society needs to stop placing a band aid on a large problem and actually come up with a permanent remedy to the solution.

  2. Chief Blair of the Toronto Police has good motive. How do we break old habits to safe ourselves from a tiresome issue that Toronto and many other cities have been facing in Canada for over a decade? The answer to gang violence might not be simple to some but, with a little common sense, almost anyone can agree: we need to start “actually” implementing and using current policies and programs put into place.

    In the past and today, I have observed the way we deal with gang violence; both working in the field and being part of a community. From my observation, communities have attempted to implement programs and when they ‘failed’ we stop trying or gave up and our response has been to attempt something different or hire more law enforcement to control the issue. So when something doesn’t work the first few times we stop? My question to government and communities is why don’t we do that with potty training? I am willing to bet the officials in government and the communities with such a large gang problem who are trying to come up with a ‘new fix’ didn’t train their kids go to the bathroom on the first try, so why are we giving up on policies to keep youth out of gangs in such a hasty manner?

    It’s enlightening to see that individuals who have hired to enforce the law still have some form of duty to their communities and furthermore genuinely care about the well-being of their youth population. Much like is mentioned in the article, it is no surprise how police are seen in the youth community; so why don’t we change that image? Why don’t we start there? It is a well-known fact that youth often join gangs to become part of something larger, to be part of a family and to gain trust and respect. Contrary to popular believe, I think the answer is simple, why don’t we just develop ways to do this!

    Perhaps if we were actually using and spending more time on existing programs, for example Hug a Thug or Youth Rocks, in order to help keep children out of jails or out of gangs we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Chief Blair is right, “The question is how effectively programs and policies are deployed”; why fix something that isn’t broken? Why not try harder? Society needs to stop placing a band aid on a large problem and actually come up with a permanent remedy to the solution.

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