By Christopher Rudge, Volunteer Writer
Edmontons high homicide rate this year has been a source of much media attention, both locally and nationally. Whether such titles as Deadmonton are warranted - or even accurate - this recent and troubling spike in violence should certainly be a cause for concern for all residents, inner city or not. Edmonton is also by no means unique in experiencing a sudden elevation in crime; Calgary experienced a similar spike of 34 homicides in 2008 which subsequently dropped to 15 in 2010, and to the current four in 2011. Many examples can be found for such unexpected increases in violence; however, one such example is excellent in highlighting the proactive approach that a city can take in addressing such a problem head-on.
This well known example in violence reduction comes from Boston, in what has since been dubbed the Boston Miracle. Plagued by an alarmingly high homicide rate through the 1980s and early 90s, Boston initiated a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at reducing violence in inner city neighbourhoods.
Much of North America experienced a surge in violent crime at the same time Boston was struggling with its homicide rate. Attributed to the introduction of crack cocaine and coupled with poor police relation in distressed communities, Bostons homicide rate climbed to a high of 152 in 1990. By 1999, the homicide rate had plummeted, and the number of murders down to 31, none of which involve youth in the 24-and-younger age group, something that would have been unheard of just five years prior. At the centre of this success was a partnership between the Boston Police Department and an inner city group of ministers known as the Ten Points Coalition. Originally formed after a gang attack during the funeral service of a rival gang member that shocked the local community into action, the Ten Points Coalition built a positive relationship with members of the police throughout the 1990s. Recognizing that some members of the local community were simply too dangerous to be in mainstream society, the Ten Points Coalition ensured that the Boston Police Department understood that the spike in inner city violence was caused by a small minority of individuals, and that the vast majority of community members were law abiding citizens that wanted safer neighbourhoods for their children.
Cooperative services offered by this partnership included summer jobs for youth, increased access to drug rehabilitation and the development of a gang forum that would settle disputes and offer young gang members a way out of the criminal lifestyle. While Boston did subsequently experience an elevated homicide rate beginning in 2001, many blamed a sense of complacency in the multi-stakeholder initiative.
While Boston is a larger metropolis with different demographics and history, the lesson from the Boston Miracle is as relevant as it is simple: Cooperation and coordination between social services and law enforcement coupled with strong social programs. Such a system provides members of a distressed community the opportunities they need to re-establish themselves, allowing them to reduce their chances of being victimized. It must also be remembered that such programs are organic, constantly evolving and require on-going commitments and consensus building from all stakeholders in order to ensure success.
In response to the current homicide rate, the City of Edmonton announced its Violence Reduction Strategy on August 10th. The strategy aims to refocus social programs for distressed communities and vulnerable segments of the population. As stated Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht at the programs announcement, this is no quick fix, there are no simple solutions. This is a marathon, not a sprint. As part of the Citys program, it will seek to establish 24/7 coordinated social services for the REACH program, initiate a family violence prevention strategy, increase police enforcement in hospitality areas (i.e. Whyte Avenue, Jasper Avenue), and increase the number of Neighbourhood Empowerment Teams. These teams involve members of the police department, a community capacity builder and members of a youth mobilization team who work to develop and implement Community Action Plans for distressed communities.
The refocusing and strengthening of these initiatives represents the same long-term planning and community coordination used in the Boston Miracle. Considering that 60% of all homicide victims in Edmonton this year were either homeless or used shelter services at some time indicates the need for increased social services and community partnerships in our citys hot spots of crime. While certainly a positive first step, it will take a continual and sustained effort by the city, community members and all concerned residents of Edmonton before real, long-lasting results are seen. Such an effort may lead to our own mini-miracle and a better more dignified life for all residents in this city.
Bass, Peter; Borgman, Dean. 2010. The so-called Boston Miracle. Centre for youth studies.
City of Edmonton. 2011 (August). Violence Reduction Strategy. Available at: http://www.edmontonpolice.ca/vrs.
Ibrahim, Mariam. August 10, 2011. Edmontons crime strategy should advocate help for the homeless, inner-city advocates say. Edmonton Journal.
Winship, Christopher. 2002. End of a Miracle? Crime, Faith and Partnership in Boston in the 1990s. Available at: www.wjh.harvard.edu/soc/faculty/winship/End_of_a_Miracle.pdf.