Police say crime is down in a formerly troubled neighbourhood of Sudbury, thanks in part to a program that brings together community groups and police.
Sergeant Randy Hoskins said he thought the community approach would fail when he was assigned to the project in 2009.
The Noah’s Space program involves representatives from 42 social service groups in Sudbury, including the Children's Aid, the N'Swakamok Friendship Centre and the YMCA. Noah's Space is an acronym for New Opportunities and Hope's Supportive Partnerships Advocating Community Empowerment.
Hoskins said police weren't really welcome in the Donovan and Flour Mill neighbourhoods at one time. He said he couldn't see anyone risking their peace and quiet to work with them.
“I now know there's some golden nuggets in the community, some natural leaders that want to step and make where they live a better place to live,” Hoskins said. “We eventually found them.”
Social disturbance or criminal activity?
A community justice consultant, Dr. Hugh Russell, is helping evaluate the group's success.
He said a lot of problems can and should be resolved at the community level.
“Eighty to 83 per cent of all police response [across Ontario] is dealing with social disturbance, not criminal activity,” he said.
Sudbury police inspector Bob Keetch said the program is working. Calls about troubled youth in the neighborhood fell dramatically between 2009 and 2012 — from 260 to 132.
Violent crime is down by about 40 cases in the same time frame, he added.
Russell said the community-based program approach requires police officers to shift their mindset from enforcement to problem-solving.
“Turns out [the bulk] of what police do — and this is across Ontario — doesn't deal with that at all,” he said.
“They're social disturbance issues like someone afraid of a stranger walking through the neighborhood, like threats that aren't illegal but that could lead to violence.”
With a community based approach, many of these issues can be resolved before they escalate into crime, he said.