Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Headlines do not define us - Part 2

Ljubljanica river banks in the Slovenian capital city
Photo AleŇ° Kravos, Creative Commons


Last week we began a series of blogs about the impact of local news on neighborhood perceptions and how different media styles affect community engagement. The last blog discussed media coverage in Denver, Colorado. This week Mateja takes our analysis to Slovenia.


by Mateja Mihinjac

Like in many other parts of the world, Slovenian daily news likewise has disproportionately covered the Ukrainian war for over a month. Sadly, local crime remains uninhibited despite this global crisis. In fact, it is possible that crime may increase during these times or shortly afterwards.


ARMED ROBBERY OF A JEWELLERY STORE

One news story that raised eyebrows was a brazen armed robbery of a jewellery store committed in daylight adjacent to the city’s municipal building.

Two robbers, one of whom was armed, tied up an employee and then escaped via the historic part of the city. There was a description of the two perpetrators, however, readers commented that this was of no use since the perpetrators would have already disguised themselves once they escaped. Those responsible for the robbery have not yet been apprehended.

As in last week’s blog, reader comments also mentioned police issues. Readers complained that police foot patrols that were once present in the city centre are now absent. They believed such a presence could deter crime and provide reassurance to city-goers. There is scientific evidence supporting these comments. Research shows that police foot patrols can help reduce robberies.
 


Preseren Square, main activity node in Ljubljana


DOMESTIC HOMICIDE

This story reports on a domestic homicide from last year when an 80-year-old man murdered his sleeping wife by repeatedly hitting her on her head with an axe. The story reports details of how he hit her at least 34-times causing her to die at the scene. The story questions whether the accused will be fit to stand trial considering his frail health and possible impaired judgment at the time of the act. The report offers a dry description of facts.

While the cases of domestic homicide are difficult to comprehend, they are sadly all too common and have increased in Slovenia during COVID lockdowns. Domestic violence most often occurs behind closed doors and in neighbourhoods where people are disengaged from one another. In Slovenia, it is not uncommon to expect that what happens at home is a private matter, especially in rural areas.


ARSON

The final news story involves a 25-year-old perpetrator who broke in, stole items, and then set fire in several locations across Ljubljana city centre including the COVID test location, a market stand, and a rubbish bin. The perpetrator was apprehended owing to witness information about his movements. The rest of the report provides basic facts about the event and the police statement. Readers’ comments, however, are highly judgmental about the apprehended young man and suggest he must be bored for engaging in such acts or that he needs to “learn to do some real job”.

This case attracted extra attention as the country is currently on high alert for forest fires, so any open fire is strictly prohibited. Over the past two weeks, firefighters had to extinguish several forest fires and police suspect these fires have been set intentionally.
 


Ljubljana is noted as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe


TAKEAWAYS

I am lucky to live in a fairly safe country. The national homicide rate is around 1 per 100.000 inhabitants. Rates vary by city (the capital city Ljubljana’s rate is below 1 while Celje’s – the third-largest city – is 2.6) but overall serious crime is rare. Unlike the situation in Denver reported last week, in Slovenia the rarity of shootings and homicide is reflected in scarce reporting of serious crimes in the news media.

However, there are some implications from Slovenian news not directly mentioned in these reports. They are obvious to those of us engaged in SafeGrowth programming:
  • Neighbourhoods need to offer something for everyone. Youth and young people, especially, require extra stimulation and access to activities that fulfil them. Consider, for example, how intentional fire setting is commonly attributed to youth and how more inclusive opportunities for youth offer a deterrent.
  • We should work to eliminate the mantra that what happens behind closed doors is no one’s business. Support structures within neighbourhoods should offer assistance for family conflicts to both the perpetrators and victims. Building up neighbourhood social cohesion will help reverse people remaining disengaged from one another.
  • Police-community relationships are important for a balanced neighbourhood and those relationships can only be built by a direct and positive interaction between the police and residents. Properly deployed foot patrols, with well-trained officers, offer the first step toward this positive interaction. Research supports police patrols as integral to community or neighbourhood policing models.

It might be too early to tell what impacts the current war will have on local crime trends, however, one thing is certain. We should not disregard the impacts of global affairs. Our neighbourhoods are not insulated from their surroundings. Spending extra attention on community-building and creating resilient neighbourhoods is the best insurance policy against the potential post-war effects of increasing crime and the worsening news headlines that may become a new reality.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Headlines do not define us - Part 1

 

News headlines matter when it comes to neighborhood safety
photo Huffington Post online

by Gregory Saville

As we read the horrific daily news from the Russia/Ukraine war, usually somewhere close by are crime headlines. When we write about, work towards, and teach others how to use SafeGrowth to build safer neighborhoods, we run into local fears about crime. Sometimes fears are debilitating and residents are too afraid to leave their front doors. Other times, they are outraged by some local crime and it mobilizes them. In all cases, local perceptions are driven not only by experience, but by stories.

Local engagement hinges on the role of media in story-telling. I often analyze the content of a news organization’s headlines to see how reporting will help or hinder a SafeGrowth program in a new city. 

With that in mind, Mateja, Tarah, and I decided to write three different blogs over the next month on media story headlines where we live. Tarah will write about reports in and around Hamilton, Ontario in Canada. Mateja will write about reports in and around her city of Ljubljana in Slovenia. Today in Part 1, I will write about reports in and around Denver, Colorado.

Our deep-dive will compare the latest crime stories in local and national news related to our cities. We will examine how media reports those crime stories (Blood and gore? Perceptions of residents?) And we will assess the police/law enforcement response or role in those media stories. 

How do our different cities compare?


We will compare crime reporting in three different cities
- public perceptions matter when it comes to preventing crime


DENVER, COLORADO

The United States is a country where firearms are easily available, so the chance that guns end up in the wrong hands is multiplied a hundredfold. A decade ago I wrote the Washington/BC murder mystery blog and reported that when a burglar breaks into a Washington home there is a 1 in 20 chance of finding a handgun versus 1 in 500 in British Columbia. There is a mass or school shooting somewhere in the U.S. a few times a month

Thus American crime stories focus on guns, shootings, and horrific firearms crimes. 

This week, I read a Denver Post news article about “A 14-year-old was shot dead early Friday morning in NE Denver". The story had very few details. We learn only that juveniles were involved. We learn nothing about how juveniles got hold of firearms! (See my murder-mystery blog above). So while sensational murders show up on the front page, we learn little about them or what caused them. In this environment of perpetual fear-mongering, neighborhoods are, understandably, fearful of a wave of crime.

These types of stories are common in Denver in spite of the fact that Denver’s crime rate is significantly lower than many other American cities. Reality, it seems, plays little role in the reporting of crime.


Denver's crime is lower than most large American cities,
but you'd never know it from the news

IT DOESN’T DEFINE US

Another story in Friday’s headline documented the one-year anniversary of a grocery store mass killing in Boulder in 2021. 

This journalism was an attempt at “investigative” reporting, although without a great deal of actual investigation. One resident described how he attempted to mentally recover by playing his cello at the streetside memorial to the victims. The Boulder mayor acknowledged the impact but said the shooting does not define their community. 

The story ended by citing research about the harm to emotional well-being within neighborhoods after mass shootings. It is encouraging that there are news editors asking these more in-depth questions to follow up on the long-term neighborhood. Their message: People are resilient! Now THAT is something SafeGrowth can work with.


FOCUS ON POLICE

Sadly, the most alarming news coverage was not shootings. It was the coverage on police accountability. Yesterday’s media carried stories on “Unsealed memos reveal concerns by Denver police about internal “leadership failure” during 2020 protests” 

The implication of internal police turmoil has as deep an impact on neighborhood confidence as crime stories. Most people want to be confident and trusting of their police and, in fact, most are. They might support police reforms, but research indicates they overwhelmingly oppose defunding

But, perhaps the most disturbing of all recent coverage was not shootings or accountability, rather it was this local news video clip about the city of Wheat Ridge in suburban Denver. 


Long-term motel tenants feel forced out by the new Wheat Ridge ordinance

This story dealt with increasing police calls for service that were generated from a cluster of motels along an interstate highway. The clip quotes a local police Chief who promotes the long-ago discredited “broken windows” crime theory as a reason to take action on local motels. 

Wheat Ridge now has an ordinance to crack down on motel owners forcing many long-term motel residents out of their apartments. The implication is that they will end up on the street, and not in the local homeless shelter (if you have been inside shelters, you know why). 

From a SafeGrowth perspective, it is hard to know what is worse: 

  • a police official using a discredited crime theory to take action, or; 
  • a municipality more concerned about disorder at a motel strip and less concerned about throwing residents into homelessness.

Will the municipality find affordable homes for the evicted residents? Will the motel policy cut crime or merely displace it? Will the evicted simply add to the homelessness in Wheat Ridge? Hard to say - but it seems this news outlet, at least, is keeping watch. News stories can help, or hinder, public safety. 

Next week: Crime coverage in the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana.


Monday, March 7, 2022

Books 2 Prisoners - Capacity building from the inside/out


Tarah Hodgkinson

This week, one of my friends, and colleague, Jeffrey Bradley, came to give a guest lecture in my course on victimology. While he has a range of experiences with victim services, most notably, he spoke about his experience volunteering with Books 2 Prisoners

Books 2 Prisoners (B2P) first started in Seattle in 1972. Since then, it has spread to parts of Canada, including Ottawa where my friend Jeff co-chairs their local chapter. B2P receives requests for books from prisoners, local volunteers source these books through donations and/or crowd-sourcing, and these books are mailed to the correctional facility. B2P is an important pathway to support literature in prison, as it is one of the only ways to provide books and much of the material that enters Canadian prisons are censored for revolutionary content. 

One of the key messages I’m trying to drive home with my students is that victims and offenders are frequently the same people. As such, B2P is an important victim service, since many prisoners have suffered significant victimization and trauma in their own life. 

The impact of books in prison is well documented. Reviews of the literature have found that most stated commitments to education in prison are severely lacking in practice and any access to educational materials is an improvement. In addition, literature contributes to prisoners’ well-being and sense of self in an unforgiving and oppressive system like prison. Chris Hedges’ new book The Class documents this impact in an accessible, engaging, and even heartbreaking way. 


NEIGHBOURHOOD BUILDING 

As we said in the last blog, Wild Horse Redemption, we cannot ignore the rehabilitation of offenders back into society as part of neighourhood building. Many of the neighbourhoods we work in have been devastated by legislation that punishes poor people of colour (think the War on Drugs) and contributes to mass incarceration. Children grow up without parents and siblings as these folks are imprisoned for minor possession charges or simply trying to survive in a community where all legitimate means of earning an income have disappeared.  


A major part of the SafeGrowth movement is building local capacity. B2P provides those who are currently incarcerated with some of the necessary materials to improve their situation. 

But that’s not enough since, as we said last week, eventually, almost all offenders end up back in society. Prisoners need better support for their mental and emotional well-being. They need healthy food and safe conditions. They need job training AND job opportunities when they leave prison. Most importantly, they need a system that doesn’t benefit from keeping them incarcerated through privatization and the equivalent of slave labour. 

SafeGrowth is all about grassroots and community-led strategies for revolutionary change. B2P is just one example of these strategies, working to support one of our most marginalized populations.