Good news on the reserve [policing]

Posted on January 7, 2015 in Equality Delivery System – Full Comment
January 7, 2015.   John Kiedrowski

First Nations peoples living on reserves experience the highest rates of Criminal Code offences, arrest and incarceration of any group in Canada. Compared to non-aboriginals the overall crime rate of aboriginals is 3.8 times higher, violent crime 5.8 times higher, assault 7 times higher, sexual assault 5.4 times higher, and drug trafficking 3.8 times higher.

Recently, the Auditor-General of Canada criticized the federal government’s First Nations Policing Program, claiming that policing services on First Nations reserves fail to meet the standards applying to police services in non-aboriginal communities in Canada. First Nations police and political leaders in turn have responded that this failure is due to inadequate resources and asked the federal government to remedy this deficiency.

First Nations policing in Canada is a shared responsibility between the provinces/territories and the federal government. In the 2011/12 fiscal year, the federal and provincial/territorial governments’ total contribution to First Nations policing was $233-million. The federal government contribution was $122-million (52%) and that of provincial/territorial governments $111-million (48%). Funding has been provided to 589 of the eligible 634 First Nation communities through a variety of policing service arrangements including the following: 38 First Nations Administered policing agreements (FNA); Royal Canadian Mounted Police Community Tripartite Agreements (CTA); RCMP First Nations Community Police Service Framework agreements; and municipal-type agreements.

While calling for more resources, First Nations police nonetheless have for the most part been effectively carrying out their duties to serve and protect their communities. In many instances, the 38 FNAs can be viewed as a particularly successful model for aboriginal communities. Good examples include the Six Nations Police Service and Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service in Ontario.

During the period 2004-2011, in Canada as a whole there was a 16% decrease in the number of homicides, a 19% decrease in violent criminal incidents, a 20% decrease in assaults, and a 23% decrease in sexual assaults. The Crime Severity Index (CSI), which tracks changes in the severity of police-reported crime by accounting for both the amount of crime reported by police in a given jurisdiction and the relative seriousness of these crimes, decreased for all of Canada by 33.6 points between 1999 and 2011. Violent crime severity decreased by 14.1 points for off-reserve communities.

Communities with FNAs, in comparison with Canadian communities with other types of policing arrangements, have likewise reported a decrease in criminal activities. From 2004 to 2011 there was a 22% decrease in incidents of crime and a 36% decrease in homicides. From 1999 to 2011 the CSI showed an overall decrease of 91.8 points and a decrease of 70.4 points in violent crime for the 16% of communities policed under the FNA policing model that had data available.

While there have been no evaluations getting at the causes of reductions in crime rates in certain FNA policed communities despite claims of limited resources, there are several possible explanations. One is that these communities were able to hire more police officers by cutting costs in other areas. Another is that they have been able to achieve better collaboration between community members, elders and social agencies working in partnership with the police to address problems in their communities.

It needs to be kept in mind that the reported crime reduction figures only apply to 16% of communities with FNAs, because figures from the other communities are unavailable. Specific reporting requirements from all communities will assist in understanding the costs of policing and programs associated with crime reduction activities. There is also a need for First Nations policing executives to implement performance measures to help manage their resources and identify effective performance, similar to police performance measures developed by many policing organizations off reserve.

First Nations policing could incorporate evidence-based policing practices to demonstrate successful policing models in their communities. This information could then be transferred to other First Nations communities. This approach was fully supported by the Council of Canadian Academies in their recent report on the future of Canadian policing models.

Crime reduction in any community is a good news story. It is an especially good story in First Nations communities given the many social problems they face. Notwithstanding the focus of the Auditor-General, the lack of funds or police performance measures, this story of fewer crimes and fewer victims needs to be shared.

National Post

John Kiedrowski is a consultant in compliance frameworks in First Nations communities.

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