Monday, October 31, 2022

Mental health - COVID's impact

Did mental health reports increase during COVID? 

Tarah Hodgkinson 

We talk about liveability in SafeGrowth a lot. A liveable community is a healthy one. And that includes mental health. 

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the mental health of our communities and how we live our lives. While we saw an international decline in most crime types during the initial stages of social restrictions (starting in March 2020), we know less about how these restrictions impacted police-reported mental health. 

There are countless articles and reports raising concerns about the short and long-term impacts on mental health as a result of COVID-19 social restrictions. Most claim that mental health deteriorated across the board, but impacts were particularly acute for disabled, marginalized groups, and women. 


Furthermore, from Nova Scotia on one coast to British Columbia on the other, there have been calls for increases in Canadian police personnel to respond to the increasing demand for mental health services. In a recent study we published in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, we sought to determine if the concerns about mental health were warranted in the Canadian context and if calls for additional resources were necessary. 

The pandemic affected everyone -
A new Canadian study examines mental health impacts

We were able to examine 13 jurisdictions in Canada using a Statistics Canada special survey of police-reported mental health-related incidents. Surprisingly, we didn’t find major increases. 

Rather, police-reported mental health-related incidents were generally stable. More specifically, we found that suicide attempts and incidents generally declined. Apprehensions under the Mental Health Act (a danger to themselves or others), were generally stable with significant increases in only 4 out of 13 jurisdictions. Other mental health-related calls were also generally stable with only 3 jurisdictions seeing a significant increase. 

Counter to widespread concern about the impact of social restrictions, the police-reported mental health-related data shows an unexpected resilience in Canada. When you explore the psychological literature on mental health, this finding is consistent across other contexts.  


First, it means we may be more resilient than we actually thought. Second, it means that calls for increasing mental health resources to police may be unwarranted.

This is an important point because police are usually not the best equipped to deal with mental health-related incidents. Indeed, because of the de-institutionalization of mental health facilities and cuts to social resources and preventative measures, police have become the only responder left. This isn’t fair. Mental health is not a crime! Police should not be the ones to respond. 

Mental health is not a police issue.
The mentally ill deserve treatment, not prison.

Keep in mind that even though mental health-related incidents are stable, we still have a lot of work to do. And that work shouldn’t be reactive and enforcement-based. Rather, we need to demand our governments invest in evidence-based solutions like basic income, housing, social services, and wrap-around supports. 

These solutions need better funding and neighbourhood-level support to ensure they are appropriate and reach those who need it most. Neighborhood-level capacity-building is precisely what occurs within SafeGrowth programming. We believe this is how we rebuild the kinds of 21st-century neighbourhoods that will help us stay resilient and healthy. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A desert Summit in Palm Springs - COVID finally eases

2022 SafeGrowth Summit hotel - Hilton Palm Springs

by Gregory Saville

Over the past 7 years, the SafeGrowth Network has met annually at our training Summits to teach each other new concepts and tactics arising through our community-building and crime prevention programs. It’s a time for us to recharge our batteries and recuperate in the company of like-minded, funny, and intensely talented, people (Pina colada’s served with pink umbrellas under palm trees comes to mind). 

We invite others outside the network to participate in our Summits, such as community groups, journalists, business associations, housing groups, police, academics, and other urban design professionals. Then we set aside time to give back to the community in the form of public training, presentations, or workshops. 

All that came to a halt with the COVID pandemic relegating us to online Zoom meetings – a distant substitute for sharing good food, relaxing at the beach, or laughing in person. Finally, after a long wait following our Cancun, Mexico Summit in 2019, we had our first face-to-face in three years in Palm Springs, California last week. 

One of the Palm Springs pathways we examined
during our walking audits


Over the years we have partnered with neighborhood associations, national non-profits, and crime prevention organizations. This year we were delighted when the Palm Springs police department –  in the form of Chief Andy Mills and Lt. William Hutchinson – offered to sponsor our meeting and participate in our 2022 SafeGrowth Summit. 

Palm Springs police chief Andy Mills introduces the
SafeGrowth team to community members

Ten members of our team, (five more virtually) and a half dozen members of the police service, gathered at the Hilton Palm Springs Hotel, the police training facility, and on the downtown streets of the city, to discuss, analyze, audit, and brainstorm different ways to bring safety and livability to neighborhoods of the future. 

SafeGrowth team member Anna Brassard describing SafeGrowth

Mateja Mihinjac outlines a part of model to residents

Harry Tapia explains Livability Academies 

Among other topics, our Summit themes included:

  • a new method for community engagement, 
  • different ways to review crime trends in Palm Springs,
  • next steps for the Livability Academy status in Philadelphia,
  • situational awareness during site visits,
  • SafeGrowth progress in Sweden following the 2022 H22 Smart City Expo,
  • A review of current trends in planning theory,
  • geography of crime theories and community crime theories related to SafeGrowth.

We discussed the situation in Palm Springs and we ran two public sessions on two different days to introduce residents and business owners to different parts of the SafeGrowth model. We gathered 40 community and business residents for presentations on Livability Academies and other programs in SafeGrowth. We toured their city with them so they could show us their concerns and hopes for the future. The local media was terrific in providing accurate and timely reporting on our week in their lovely city. 


Work retreats can be dull and dry affairs, but beautiful Palm Springs did not disappoint with its eclectic street furniture, art, and statues, along with some of the best mid-century modern architecture in the nation (Frank Sinatra and the rat pack lived here). Along the way, we hiked the nearby mountains, went up the gondola, spent time at the weekly street market, and were entertained by the Denver band MOOSGH at the Hotel Zoso

There is no replacement for face-to-face encounters when it comes to SafeGrowth and other forms of community development. It’s great to see the other side of the pandemic.

Best wishes to the many wonderful residents and professionals in Palm Springs, especially Chief Andy Mills and Lt. William Hutchinson. Thanks for the hospitality.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Quality-of-life policing - re-dressing broken windows?

With the increase in street disorder and homelessness, NYPD has
reinstated the controversial "Quality-of-Life" policing strategy

by Mateja Mihinjac

Over the past few years, there has been a growing focus on improving liveability and quality of life within neighbourhoods and cities. This includes our conceptualisation of 3rd Gen CPTED – Third Generation Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) – a theory capitalizing on the concept of liveability that embeds safety from crime and fear.

One potential manifestation of this liveability trend translates into policing with an increasing emphasis on quality-of-life enforcement where individuals are targeted for minor offences and misdemeanours that contribute to crime and disorder. 


Quality-of-life policing has been most prominent in New York City, which is undergoing an interesting change under the leadership of new Mayor Eric Adams.

After years of a downward trend in arrests and incarcerations for misdemeanour offences, stats for these activities have started to increase owing to a new stricter enforcement of so-called petty crimes. The petty crimes include fare evasion, petty theft, jumping subway turnstiles, sleeping on a park bench, taking up two seats on the subway, public drinking, public urination, dice games, and similar. According to reports, arrests for these offences have jumped by 25% between January and June of this year.

Nearly 90% of those arrested were people of colour.

This is the first increase since 2014 and the first significant increase since 2007 when the stop and frisk practice was ruled unconstitutional. 

Street incivilities, like graffiti, have returned to New York City

Yet the NYPD maintains that New Yorkers desire, if not demand, addressing the quality-of-life issues. They justify this with a poll showing three-quarters of respondents stated they perceive crime as a very serious issue. 

Of course, the survey simply reflects public perceptions of crime and quality of life, not what specifically the community would like done about crime and quality of life. To translate that into quality-of-life policing would seem to commit the error of what policing expert Professor Herman Goldstein called the “means over ends syndrome”, the process whereby police conflate the ends with the means and place more emphasis on the policing operational tactics than on effective solutions that actually resolve the problem at hand.

Quality-of-life policing enforces minor offences,
like littering and dogs-off-leash


Some argue this new era of quality-of-life policing is simply the return of broken windows/order maintenance policing, a policing practice that received much criticism for being unethical and ineffective. 

Its critics argue that quality-of-life policing practices are abusive, they harass predominantly individuals of colour and criminalise people for being poor.

Moreover, in the era of aiming to re-establish positive police-community relationships following all the recent police-community crises (the protest movement after George Floyd’s death; the defund the police movement), it would seem that more aggressive and confrontational policing practices may undermine these efforts for positive changes.

Like residents in all cities around the world, people in New York City
desire a livable city with places that are healthy, fun, and safe


My fear is that returning to more repressive policing tactics could also increase the gap between prevention strategies such as CPTED and the disadvantaged communities that gain the most from effective and low-cost practices.

As recently as last year CPTED was vilified by some critics for alleged discriminatory practices when they wrongfully conflated CPTED with broken windows policing. 

We certainly do not need another “prevention” strategy that causes more harm than good – especially since it already did that once. I hope it does not come to that.