Saturday, October 31, 2020

Defund the police? The Tsunami arrives

by Greg Saville

These are trying times, a statement that qualifies as the understatement of the year! This is especially so when it comes to policing and racial protest. While protests and riots are a global phenomenon – especially recently in places like Hong Kong, Europe, and South America – in the past few months the latest Ground Zero for police and racial unrest is in the USA. 

Since May, America has seen over 14,000 arrests during protests in 49 American cities, extremist violence caused by racist groups like the Alt-Right, and the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police shootings of unarmed black men.

And now Defund The Police

I attended a police meeting recently in which I listened to suggestions to modify warrior-style training and rebrand police services in response to this turbulence. It felt like we were arguing over where to place our beach towel to keep the sand off while ignoring the roaring Tsunami about to crash onto us and wash us out to sea.

Over 20 major city police chiefs have resigned in the past few months, including Rene Hall, the African-American chief in Dallas, Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, and other chiefs in Rochester, Richmond, Louisville, Detroit, Milwaukee, Portland, and even Toronto, as the racial protests spread to Canada.

Clearly, this is not a beach-towel-moment in history. What is to be done with the police?

Toronto Police Service on crowd control


Since the 1980s, police reformers have worked diligently to transform police practices from rigid law enforcement-warrior style policing, to community-based problem-solving. For over two decades, I have worked alongside some of the best and brightest police officials and reformers in the world to do just that – people who I respect and who I know care deeply for both the police profession and safer, more just, communities. 

Sadly, in my estimation, since at least since 9-11, the movement towards community policing has reversed and lately, it has collapsed. I speak in admittedly simplistic terms, but it seems to me that the warrior cop has commandeered the community cop. Almost in response, the defund-the-police movement represents a belated and instinctive reply to that illicit expropriation. 

I have read books explaining why community police reform faltered since the 1980s, for example, Malcolm Sparrow's, Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Reform Back and the Keys to Reform. I also have read far-fetched books describing the End Of Policing. But watching police/race riots on the news this week (the latest in Philadelphia), those books now seem much less far-fetched. 


And now where are we? 

Forbes magazine described the immediate impact of defunding the police. In a dozen cities, municipal leaders have committed to defund, or reallocate, over a half-billion dollars in police service budgets thus far. This includes over $300 million in New York City, over $100 million in Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, over $10 million in Oakland, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, and over $1 million in Hartford and Salt Lake City.

We are told police services are already underfunded and cops are working harder than ever, running call-to-call. Perhaps that’s true. But, if so, it is only half the story.

NYPD patrol vehicle street parking


Here is what I know for certain: In two different cities, we recently taught SafeGrowth programs to local residents, shopowners, and community groups. This included how to create action plans to cut crimes in different high crime neighborhoods – a topic in which you’d think the police have a powerful vested interest (the training was free and they had plenty of prior notice). We ended up with two local cops at one and none at the other. The police agencies in question each employed over a thousand cops on staff.

We got two. 

Maybe they were understaffed and too busy to attend. But still! We were cutting crime at the roots with proven, evidence-based methods. We were teaching residents how to partner with police (and vice versa) in order to create safer neighborhoods in crime hotspots. This is the very goal that defund-the-police advocates seek!

There is an American national election next week and this tsunami will crash upon those who win it. Much is at stake.

Next blog: What can be done?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The mentorship of elders - enriching neighbourhood life

Sharing Teens and Elders Project in Olympia, Washington
Photo Senior Services for South Sound

by Tarah Hodgkinson

In our SafeGrowth work, we aim to help people create integrated neighbourhoods inclusive of race, class, age, and ethnicity. We strive to promote the development of local leadership in order to attend to the needs of all residents. Most importantly, the grass-roots leaders and mentors in SafeGrowth neighbourhoods also show up in the amazing ways they build local safety and liveability every day. 

I recently spoke with a community that was lamenting about the fact that Indigenous youth do not have clearly defined elders. I started thinking about the role of elders more broadly, in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and the important role they play in social cohesion and livability. 


When we think of elders, we often think of Indigenous leaders who have been appointed to represent their community. They are individuals who governments and organizations can turn to in order to liaise with the group or community. For example, Indigenous leaders, as we define them today, often fill a political post that fits colonial and government needs for representation. 

However, the history of elders points to leaders and mentors who emerge organically. These elders did not represent their community or have any authority. Rather they were recognized as advice-givers. According to one author, they developed slowly, asked good questions, had knowledge and were revealed by deed.  

At her art mural in Roma, Queensland in Australia,
Susie Klein is an emerging leader for local youth 

Elders are, in many ways, mentors. They hold knowledge, give advice, and care for others. And both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities need these leaders. Mentoring is one of the most consistent protective factors against offending. As noted by criminologist Irvin Waller, one good mentor can help pull a young person out of a potential life of crime.


But the ways in which we currently set up our neighbourhoods and communities remove opportunities for the emergence of mentors and elders. In Our Kids, Robert Putnam talks extensively about how geographical divides along race and class lines have created neighbourhoods and communities in which young people never meet potential mentors or elders. He goes on to explain how this further polarizes and marginalizes certain areas so that they may never pull themselves out of poverty or cycles of crime. 

When we design neighbourhood living so that it stifles the personal mentorship of elders, we ourselves commit a kind of crime: we rob young people of the opportunity to connect with another generation. It’s no wonder they often feel disassociated from neighbourhood and family life. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Livability - urban or rural?

Livability and safety is more than idyllic rural life 

by Mateja Mihinjac

This week I came across a recent study suggesting that economic factors are a stronger predictor of prosocial behaviour than “urbanicity” – living in either an urban or non-urban area.

This spiked my interest because we commonly hear that small towns have close-knit communities and always-helpful residents. Yet, at a recent International Colloquium in which our SafeGrowth team presented our findings from rural environments, one of the common threads throughout the whole Colloquium was that small towns and rural communities deal with similar crime and safety challenges to larger cities. 

They are not the idyllic communities romanticized about in movies and novels. Perhaps there is more to it than neighbourhood size and population density?

Rural Barossa Valley, South Australia
Photo Louis Roving, Creative Commons


The study, “Neighbourhood wealth, not urbanicity, predicts prosociality towards strangers” looked at prosocial attitudes across 37 different UK neighbourhoods of various sizes. In each neighbourhood, it measured whether: 

  • individuals posted a lost letter; 
  • returned a dropped item; or 
  • stopped to let someone cross the road. 


It turned out that rural or urban characteristics were less important than expected. Rather than urban characteristics (“urbanicity”) – that might contribute to anonymity and diffusion of responsibility thus resulting in reduced willingness to assist others – it was actually economic deprivation that was the strongest predictor of prosocial attitudes and willingness to assist. 

While these findings might not translate into different contexts across the world (rural areas in the UK are less deprived than their urban counterparts), they do suggest that it is neighbourhood liveability that results in collective prosocial attitudes, in both rural and urban places.


It seems counterintuitive to expect that people living in deprived neighbourhoods are concerned with anything other than basic survival needs. How can they direct their energy into their neighbourhood when they are competing for available resources needed to survive?

Coastal town on Vancouver Island, Canada

Living in a deprived neighbourhood also means that residents are less likely to share the same expectations about the neighbourhood or to trust and work collectively towards common goals. That is why rural or urban, it is neighbourhood trust, shared expectations, and working together that helps build a socially cohesive and liveable neighbourhood.

As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, it is neighbourhood liveability that best improves the conditions that will advance neighbourhoods from a Basic level to Moderate and Advanced levels. We learned long ago that improving neighbourhood liveability provides residents and community workers an effective goal for targeted community development work. 

The most powerful approach for improving liveability and prosocial attitudes is through organized neighbourhood action with the emphasis on building local capacity. This recent study provides yet more research support for our real-life discoveries about what makes places safer.