Halifax’s violence problem is real, says a wide-ranging report on crime in the metro area.
"This isn’t a figment of someone’s imagination," Dalhousie
University criminologist Don Clairmont told regional councillors Friday.
» Click here to read the report
» Click here to go to the Mayor's Roundtable on Violence website
» Clairmont: Race relations committee must work on tough issues
He said the 650-page report shows "overwhelming" evidence of a "serious problem of violence and public safety in HRM."
Mr. Clairmont recommends developing a full-time public safety
co-ordinator, improving race relations and broadening the
responsibilities of Halifax’s police forces as the first steps to curb violent crime.
The director of the Atlantic Institute of Criminology spent some
1,500 hours compiling the $68,000 report, which includes 64
recommendations that will be considered by council.
Much of the information comes from last year’s roundtable on violence, as well as a series of community meetings, stakeholder discussions, a 1,200-person phone poll and 2,350 written surveys.
Mr. Clairmont said there is a lack of confidence in municipal
council to enact change on public safety issues. He said there is also
an urgent need to revamp the city’s community and race relations
He recommended hiring a full-time public safety co-ordinator who
will report to the mayor. He said the city should also appoint a safety
advisory committee made up of councillors, police and representatives
from minority and volunteer organizations.
Finally, Mr. Clairmont suggested Halifax Regional Police and RCMP establish community safety officers in high-risk, high-crime communities.
Those are the immediate steps that need to be taken, he said. There
are dozens of others that could improve the city’s crime rate and the
public’s perception of Halifax as a dangerous city.
The mayor praised the report and said he’s eager to look at
implementing the primary recommendations. But, he added, that will take
time and money.
"It’s a very powerful, intense document," Peter Kelly said. "We cannot not respond to it.
"But the funds are not there. The funds have to be there."
Council confirmed earlier this week that no money was set aside in
city hall’s 2008-09 budget to enact the report’s recommendations.
"We need to make sure that this comes back to council with some very clear direction for discussion," Mr. Kelly said.
Council will then work with the provincial and federal governments
to hopefully come up with the money needed to make the necessary
changes, he said.
When asked if he will be pushing the recommendations on council, Mr. Kelly said he "shouldn’t have to arm-twist anybody."
"It should be a common-sense approach that we must need it, let’s get it done."
While there’s no word on funding, some of the work needed to implement some of the recommendations is already underway, Halifax Regional Police Chief Frank Beazley said.
The city has already approved Chief Beazley’s request for 24 new
officers, all of whom will be slotted into north and east Dartmouth and
the Fairview and Spryfield areas of Halifax, he said. As well, the province has approved 14 new RCMP officers for all of Halifax Regional Municipality.
The chief pointed out that police have already put cops back on the beat in Halifax in the downtown and uptown areas, which has helped lower the numbers.
"We’ve been doing a ton of crime analysis and then going out into
what I call hot spots, and going into these high-crime areas," he said.
"That’s why you’re seeing the crime starting to drop, because of the
(new) style of policing and working with the communities."
The Mounties are still going over the report and had no comment Friday, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Joe Taplin said.
Mr. Kelly said "an accumulation of events in a very short time" led
the city to organize the roundtable discussions that fuelled the report.
The violence came to a head Nov. 4, 2006, when American sailor Damon Crooks was stabbed to death outside a downtown Halifax nightclub.
That was barely a week after two violent swarmings at Pizza Corner, where the city later installed surveillance cameras.
When contacted Friday, Corwin Gooden, half-brother to Mr. Crooks,
said he didn’t want to comment until he’d had a chance to read through
Chief Beazley pointed out that the municipality’s crime rate has
dropped over the past three years, yet the public is more worried than
ever about safety.
"Nobody denies that the violent crime for a certain period was going up," he said.
But with more beat cops in the downtown and uptown areas, Chief Beazley said, robberies in peninsular Halifax have dropped in the first quarter of this year by 64 per cent over the same period last year.
Justice Minister Cecil Clarke, who called the report a "positive
next step," said no one wants country-leading statistics when it comes
"I do accept that we have challenges here," Mr. Clarke told
reporters. "But more importantly, we have the power of the partnerships
that have come together. We will take the results of this latest study and we’ll put it into action as part of our wider and broader consultation."
Cole Harbour resident Mark Starratt knows first-hand of Halifax’s problem with violence.
"Certainly it’s real," he said Friday. "We have a bad reputation."
Mr. Starratt’s teenage son was swarmed and beaten in the doorway of
his home while doling out Halloween candy in 2006. The culprits were
never caught, he said.
Since the incident, Mr. Starratt hasn’t seen any more police in his
neighbourhood, either patrolling the streets or the pathways near Cole
Harbour Place and surrounding areas where other teens have been beaten
He wanted to see more police officers and specific plans to prevent violent crime, especially swarmings.
"They’re writing a big document that doesn’t do a darn bit of good towards anything," Mr. Starratt said.
"What’s in the report? An outline or a program that they could get
to perhaps down the road. They spend so much time talking about it that
nothing is ever going to happen, or if it does, by the time they
implement it, it’s useless programs.
"Programs, programs, programs — do something."