I grew up in a neighbourhood where down my street to the left, kids were taking harmful drugs in a park and to the right, kids were playing basketball and road hockey. But while I lucked out by finding strong mentors and support, not all of my friends did. Inspired by this reality, I have spent much of my adult life working with communities and supporting their energy to produce incredible outcomes.
Safe communities and the feeling of safety are critical to our quality in life in Edmonton. Achieving these outcomes takes smart investment, strong commitment and widespread engagement from kids to seniors, across sectors, and by all levels of government.
It begins with the city and the community
More than ten years ago, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities said that,
“[M]unicipalities are the closest level of government to the citizen, so they are in the best position to work with local groups to establish effective community-based (crime prevention) programs” (Primer on Municipal Crime Prevention).
Basically, they found that when communities and municipalities work together, they are able to successfully increase safety. Edmonton accepted that challenge and in 2008, the Mayor convened a 25-member task force on community safety. Because of that commitment and the recommendations developed by REACH Edmonton, our city is now recognized as a leader in crime prevention. But this is just the beginning.
Crime is complex, but the solutions don’t have to be
In recent years, we have come to know a great deal about effective approaches to preventing crime. For example, we know that each of us can make a difference simply by saying hello to our neighbours, especially our young people. Knowing our neighbours names and by contributing our time and talents through even the simplest acts of kindness or volunteerism can go a long way. We can absolutely reduce the devastating human, social and financial impact of crime and victimization through being good neighbours. Sometimes the best strategies are the most simple.
The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues has focused on building strong local communities and their annual Community League Day is a gift to our city. It is a citywide demonstration of neighbours working together to build relationships and connect people to one another.
However, these “neighbourly” methods must always be supported by effective leadership and smart investments in programs. And this is where city support is key and where Edmonton should continue its work. Through innovative, promising and evidence-based programs and strategies we know we can be proactive about addressing the root causes of crime.
Supporting our youth
We need to be supporting youth by investing in youth-centered programs and schools. Recreation programs (ex. green shacks, community league and club sports), early learning opportunities and youth mentorship (ex. Big Brothers Big Sisters) are fundamental to steering kids out of the path of crime. This also includes maintaining green spaces for community members and youth to safely come together, embrace fitness and build community.
The city must continue its work towards the ten-year plan to end homelessness. Strategies such as these require key collaboration among multiple levels of governments and community agencies. Our city must also continue its work to revitalize or remove derelict properties which not only attract crime but often victimize people on low incomes.
New Albertan support
As new immigrants from around Canada and elsewhere continue to come to our community, we must ensure that they have the proper support to lead a full and healthy life. This includes English as a Second Language programs, continued education, and support to begin small businesses and wide ranging access to sports and recreation.
Police are a piece of the puzzle
Our police officers are among the best in the country and we know that they alone cannot create safe communities. Police are stewards for community safety and crime prevention but there is no mistaking that while they play a critical role, no system or agency can achieve community safety alone. Municipal agencies, social workers and service-providers must work with members of the community and city council to continue to be effective.
Early in my life, I came to understand the power of one and the unstoppable potential of communities to achieve great things when we work together. As city councillor, I will continue this work to ensure that safe communities are a top priority for the city.