by Ray Hudson
“One of the things that we first discovered which was a surprise, is that we’re all on the same page. We don’t need any lessons on what to do, everybody knows what to do. We just have to start doing these things in a concerted conscious way.”
That was the short and to the point summary of the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Crime, chaired by Darryl Plecas, the Parliamentary Secretary for Crime Reduction. In developing researching the report the panel traveled around BC, seeing over 700 different stakeholders, from all kinds of different activities in the system. This included the Chief Judge of the Provincial court, those working in Drug Treatment, in corrections and with people working on the ground with people having difficulty and conflict with the law.
He recently spoke to the Surrey Board of Trade about the panel’s five most important recommendations.
– Manage prolific and priority offenders more effectively
“They were singing this song 40 – 50 years ago but didn’t doing anything about prolific and priority offenders,” Plecas said. “90% of all crime is committed by 6% of the population. We know that that group of people gobbles up the largest amount of resources in our system. 10% of admissions to BC Corrections gobbles up 50% of resources. It’s not that we have a lot of criminals out there, we just have people doing it over and over and over. He defined a prolific offender was one with 15 convictions and a super offender if over 30.
“Then the Vancouver police came up with the Ludicrous Prolific Offender title because they had so many people with over 100 convictions,” Plecas said. He described one prolific offender in Richmond who was responsible for some $20 million in crime before he was caught.
“We need to have a relentless focus on these people,” he said. “almost at the exclusion of everything else and the impact would be enormous.”
– Make quality mental health and addiction services more accessible
“We’ve known this forever,” he stated. “The three reasons for crime are, number one, drugs, number two, drugs, and number three, drugs.” He described an effort to get people off drugs, not as we’ve been doing it, but helping them become productive citizens.”
“It’s going to get much worse,” he said. “Last year, one in five British Columbians presented themselves to a doctor with a mental health issue, and unless we get in front of this we’re in for a big ride. We need to have earlier, more powerful interventions for people who come into conflict with the law.”
– Increased emphasis on designing out crime
We’re talking about what kinds of things cities can do through bylaws and through practices to create situations where crime couldn’t occur in the first instance. The simplest example is immobilizers on vehicles. He said Surrey is no longer the car theft capital of the world because immobilizers on some cars made them impossible to steal, dramatically reducing car theft.
Plecas then alluded to plans that Surrey Police Chief Bill Fordy has in mind for designing out crime.
“It’s not just for Surrey,” said Plecas. “If he can pull off some of the things he wants to do the whole country will benefit. It will fundamentally change the ability of criminals to commit crime. What we have to do is stop crime from happening in the first instance so we don’t have to spend money on police courts and crime if we don’t have to.”
– Make greater use of restorative justice
“I know this community is involved in this in one fashion or another, but arguably no where near the degree we need to be. If you truly want somebody to get past their criminal thinking and have a real understanding of the impact of their behaviour, you need to get victims and offenders together in a way that’s sustainable. I know from my work in criminal justice, that is the most powerful intervention you can have in terms of turning offenders around. And simultaneously, it’s helpful to victims. I say promote, promote, promote restorative justice as one powerful intervention.
– Strengthen Inter-agency collaboration
“Over the last decade they’ve done an incredible job sharing information amongst themselves, having systems to share information,” Plecas said, “and although it doesn’t seem like it in Surrey at the moment, it reduces the ability of gangs to operate. There’s not a lot of terrorism out there because we’ve been quite successful catching it in the planning stages, such as the July 1 bombing plot at the legislature. That’s because the incredible ability amongst all those agencies to share information. The better we do that, the better we’ll be able to intervene with people.”
Plecas said another aspect of that is what different agencies can do outside of the police. “When someone has crime, mental health or housing issues, we can centralize those necessary services through a hub, centralize it in schools. There is a program in New Brunswick where they’ve tried to do this in a big way. They found was that they were able to cut the costs in half and provide better services to twice as many people. The one thing that made the difference was that they agreed to work together and share information.”
“What we need to take a lesson from Nike and Just Do It,” the Secretary said. “If others don’t come on board, too bad. I think Surrey is a good place to demonstrate that because it has been a leader in so many ways.”
The final recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Panel was to Re-examine funding approaches to provide better outcomes.
During the release of the report the government announced two actions to occur immediately:
– Consideration of a regional, integrated community safety partnership pilot project that would bring together local relevant government and non-government agencies in identifying and prioritizing community safety goals, focusing resource allocations and programs according, and measuring and evaluating the outcomes, and
– Collaboration between BC Corrections and provincial post-secondary institutions to expand job training options for offenders and thereby better support their re-integration into society.
Prior to his recent election, Darryl Plecas was the RCMP Research Chair in the Criminology Department at the University of the Fraser Valley.