Sunday, January 11, 2009

Taking Back The Streets

Well, here we are again, Nation. The new year isn't yet a fortnight old, and we've already got drive-by shootings, gangland-style killings straight out of the Godfather, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire (well, THAT aspect, at least, is new)... Happy 2009.

The Mayor, as predictable as always, is demanding more money from the province to hire more police officers. Not that this should surprise anyone - Bronco has made such a habit of begging Edmonton for money over the past few years, he probably does it in his sleep. I can't help but wonder what MRS. Bronco thinks when she rolls over at night to hear Dave muttering "more, Ed, give me more...", but perhaps that's best left undwelled upon.

The Chief, reading from the company playbook, is convinced that his force is doing the best they can with what they have. Lacking any real, forceful leadership from anyone directly accountable to the voters, the CPS continues to muddle along, looking good for the daily crime scene photos that grace the dailies all the while avoiding the inconvenient questions like "with bullets flying all over the city, why do we think we need 40 constables and 5 sergeants trying to catch speeders on the off-ramps from Deerfoot Trail?".

While Aldermen like Ric McIver and Diane Colley-Urquhart try their best to get some idea of what, exactly, is going on down at police headquarters, some others (like John Mar, the ex-city cop elected on a law-and-order platform) find themselves lost in the never-neverland of debating recycling and talking about how wonderful Bronco's Bridge to Nowhere is going to be (John, we haven't seen a lurch to the left this sudden since the Titanic tried to dodge the iceberg).

Now, I'm not going to pretend to know exactly what needs to be done to fix the problem of escalating crime and gang activity in Calgary. If I knew how to fix this, right now, today, I'd apply to be on the Calgary Police Commission. Or I'd run for Mayor. Hmmmmm... interesting thought, that...

But I digress. While I don't know, with 100% certainty, what will immediately fix Calgary's unique problems, I *do* know that there are 2 COMPLETELY different approaches that have worked elsewhere in the past.

Approach 1: Giuliani's "Broken Window"

In 1993, Rudolph Giuliani, a former prosecutor, was elected Mayor of New York City. NYC, as you can imagine, has its fair share of "major crimes", like murder and drive-by shootings (not to mention alien invasions, Godzilla, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, etc.), so you can forgive the denizens of Gotham for their initial incredulity at the announcement that their newly-elected Mayor was going to be spending valuable police resources prosecuting litter-bugs, petty vandals, and aggressive pan-handlers.

The argument that Giuliani used was based, in large part, on the "Broken Window" philosophy, which (at the risk of over-simplifying) argues that petty crime and disrespect for the law begets more crime, and more disrespect for the rule of law, which begets chaos. Giuliani instructed the police, and area prosecutors, to go after these "minor crimes" as intensely as they would if they were splashed all over the front pages - and it worked. The crime rate in NYC plummeted, as everyone from the shoplifters to the gang leaders learned that in New York City, if you so much as jaywalked or looked askew at the law, you were going to meet the good folks at Night Court. "Zero Tolerance", they called it. And while the civil rights advocates were beside themselves (which would be even moreso the case in Canada, a place arguably more predisposed towards civil rights), the bottom line is that it WORKED.

New York City police-officer-to-citizen ratio: 1-to-223.
Calgary police-officer-to-citizen-ratio: 1-to-642.

Approach 2: Rick Hanson's "I Know Where You Used To Sleep"

Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, who says that Calgary's 2 biggest gangs (the FOB and the FOB Killers) have been escalating their war on the streets of Calgary for 6 years, has apparently decided that enough is enough. Members of the gang unit are apparently knocking on the doors of known gang members, their parents, associates, friends, and telling them that if Junior strays off the straight-and-narrow, then they're coming to take not just Junior's car, but also mom's car, dad's car, and the house while they're at it.

Empowered to do so by the Victims Restitution and Compensation Act, the police would essentially take the battle from "we want Junior to behave" and change it to "we want him to behave, and if we think you're helping him misbehave, we're coming for you, too". It's an escalation of the stakes - one that will either work, or flame out spectacularly when the gangs decide that the city declaring war on their families is across the line.

Ironic, isn't it, that nobody asked the family of Keni Su'a if they thought that having gang members open fire in a public restaurant was "over the line"?

Well, nobody ever accused gangs of having high ethical standards.

Do I think Hanson's plan will work? I don't know... I've heard of it working in American cities, so it's at least as likely as Giuliani's approach. It's just as possible, though, that neither plan is any good for our particular situation, and it's something altogether different that will be required to clean up our city.

What I DO know is this: Innocent bystanders are now among the tallies of the dead in Calgary's gang wars. We can no longer afford to, as Calgarians, stand off to the side content with the knowledge that "at least they're all just shooting at each other". Keni Su'a wasn't making a drug buy, or behind on payment to a loan shark - he was having lunch. And now he's dead.

A similar tragedy played no small role in costing Paul Martin his job a few years ago. Only, in that case, it was a young girl (Jane Kreba) who was tragically killed in the crossfire.

And while the mayor fiddles, pretends to be blameless and begs Ed for more money, we have to ask ourselves: Are we really and truly willing to do what it takes to take this city back? Are we prepared for harsher laws, harsher sentences, and a harsher approach to organized crime, and to crime in general? Restoring respect for the law means instilling a sense in these criminals that to BREAK the law is not worth the potential consequences. Because let's face it, folks... coddling the criminals in the name of understanding and "getting to the root causes of crime" (poverty and poor self esteem and not getting enough hugs as a child) isn't really getting us anywhere.

Ask the 32 Calgarian men and women who were alive on December 31st, 2007, and dead on December 31st, 2008.

Hell. Ask the 4 who were alive on December 31st, 2008, and dead 24 hours later.

We need a plan.


Anonymous said...

There was an interesting counter to whether the "Broken Window" philosophy really worked in Freakonomics.... seems that the decision in Roe v. Wade 18 years previously may have played a part in the drop in crime rates as well.

Just tossing that out there as something to consider...

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing when I saw the post. The author of Freaknomics postulated that the decrease in crime was correlated to less unwanted kids being born (I am extremely summarizing here).

Although I admit to being more than a little uncomfortable about taking that conclusion...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how you can say that dealing with poverty and getting to the root causes of the crime isn't getting us anywhere.. after all, we have yet to try it.