Hamilton needs more than policing to end violence

12 12 2010

Hamilton’s new Mayor, Bob Bratina, has praised recent efforts by Hamilton Police Service (and particularly the ACTION unit) at reducing crime in the downtown core. The Dundas News reports that between May and November of this year, the special ACTION unit’s 40 officers made 657 arrests, laid 960 charges, seized more than $400,000 in illegal street drugs and issued 3,250 offense tickets. Muggings were down, as were life-threatening calls.

(photo: thehamiltonian.net)

Police Chief, Glenn De Caire, told a recent press conference that he expects to see the crime rate go up as reporting and enforcement efforts continue, but that this translates into increased safety. This is good news for our troubled downtown core, and a commendable accomplishment for our police service. Mayor Bratina has pointed to unruliness, loitering, yelling and public disorder as embarrassing indicators of the downtown’s problem areas (especially the intersection of James and King Sts.). But he and Council will need to look much further and extend their reach considerably if they are genuinely committed to reducing violence in this community.

The focus on downtown, aside from being Mayor Bratina’s ward, has much to do with exposure. It’s part of the city that is on display to all who pass through, and its shady reputation is an oft-cited reason for shopping elsewhere. Those who have worked in the core know that it is an eye-opening sight on any typical day. And yes, there are incidents involving violence. But the bigger picture has yet to be addressed by our elected leaders.

Violence against women, child abuse and sexual exploitation, and elder abuse are (to our shame) alive and well here in Hamilton. These are significant concerns as well as repugnant crimes. No community can claim to be making ground in anti-violence efforts while these horrific crimes continue. It matters not that the “jurisdiction” for addressing these crimes does not rest solely at the municipal level. Our city’s leaders must be the loudest voices among those demanding resources and action from all levels of government. It matters not that rates decline or rise from one year to the next – a sexually abused 3-year old is never an acceptable statistic.

What does matter is that we see these violent crimes as a community-wide issue. Our tolerance for abuse must be zero, and our collective response to the victimization of our citizens must be loud and clear – we  expect the prevention of violence to be a priority in all City actions. That will help to turn attention to the root causes behind some of these crimes, and to the lobbying

Mayor Bratina (photo: Spectator)

and advocacy efforts that are required of our city leaders in order to address those causes. In the same way that we are acting to eliminate poverty in Hamilton, we must act to eliminate violence. The police will be crucial partners in these efforts, but we can’t reasonably expect them to prevent violence on their own.

MPP Sophia Aggelonitis has expressed her concern about these issues in the past, and recently cited the provincial government’s commitment of more than $1 million to Hamilton as part of her government’s anti-violence strategy. We should expect to see part of this money earmarked for violence prevention that goes beyond policing to address the victimization of children, seniors, and women as well as prevention of violent crime in general. Sure, we’d like to see fewer fights in front of Jackson Square. But tidying up the unsightly facade downtown won’t do much in making Hamilton the best place in which to raise a child. In truth, much of the violence in this community is hidden and too rarely spoken about. Elder abuse doesn’t tend to happen on busy streets downtown, nor does child pornography appear in public places very often. These crimes happen in the shadows. They happen in homes. They happen in all parts of Hamilton. And each time they do, the victims are our neighbours, our family members, our friends. These are ugly crimes that leave lasting scars. Preventing them must be high on our new City Council’s agenda.

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