Public safety comes from curbing violence, not just reacting to it

Posted on January 9, 2023 in Child & Family Debates

Source: — Authors: , – Opinion/Contributors
Jan. 9, 2023.   By Jeffrey Bradley, Irvin Waller, Contributors

Smart investment in tackling the root causes of violence reduces the need for police responses after the fact. We urgently need to implement a plan.

In 2022, the Toronto Star editorial board called on municipalities to put their money where their mouth is by matching any increase in police budgets with the same increase for the prevention of crime. Toronto Mayor John Tory is recommending $48 million to better respond to emergencies after they have occurred. Maybe it is time to get serious about preventing those emergencies in the first place by investing $48 million in proactive and proven solutions.

Toronto has gradually increased police budgets over the last two decades. In major part, salaries for police officers have grown significantly more than inflation. What is clear for Toronto (and even clearer for U.S. cities like Chicago) is that hiring more police or paying them more has little to do with whether property or violent crime goes up or down. Increasing the police budget without tackling the causes of crime has left Toronto without enough officers to respond to a growth in 911 calls requesting police response.

Tory claims that his top priority is to reduce crime, but his proposed increase to the police budget is about responding to rising levels of violent crime rather than making Toronto safer by reducing it.

What is clear in 2023 is that we can identify a short list of strategies that reduced violent crime significantly and relatively quickly, because we have solid proof that they have worked elsewhere.

Tory has access to the knowledge and expertise to take a proactive approach that will reduce violence by 50 per cent before 2026. This requires smart increases in funding for outreach to youth, caseworkers working with victims of violence, education curriculum to change attitudes, creating training and jobs, basic income incentives, mentoring and trauma counselling.

Funding must be increased for interventions already started in Toronto:

Tory knows that policing in Toronto is disproportionately harsh on people who are Black, Indigenous, unhoused, sex workers, and/or part of other marginalized groups. Yet investing in proactive prevention is achieving positive goals for them. For young men, it is saving lives, stopping trauma and injury, and investing in their futures.

Toronto urgently needs to implement a plan to reduce violent crime by 50 per cent in the next four years. Toronto is working on an evidence-based community safety plan as required by the province, based on identified priorities. These programs and initiatives require strong planning, training for officials to implement, sustainable funding and evaluations to ensure effectiveness.

Glasgow, once deemed the “murder capital of Europe,” demonstrated to the western world that violence is not inevitable — but you must establish a violence reduction unit and implement proven programming. It was so successful that London’s mayor decided to set up a violence reduction unit with sustained funding and community expertise for the engagement of the public. Why not Toronto?

It is time to get upstream of the emergencies. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it will alleviate the need for annual increases to policing that take away from so many other budget priorities.

Matching Tory’s proposed $48 million for police with $48 million for proactive solutions would buy Torontonians fewer injuries and deaths from guns and stabbing, decreases in serious injuries and assaults, less gender-based violence, less crime against personal property, and better feelings of safety for all.

After all, that is what Torontonians want, and they are not unusual. National surveys show the public supports violence prevention two to one over police, courts and prisons — and for every dollar invested, we will see at least a seven-dollar return.

Jeffrey Bradley is a PhD candidate in legal studies at Carleton University. Irvin Waller is professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

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