Distrust will lessen effectiveness of new HRP tip line, says police board chair
'Community members are not speaking because they feel that there could be repercussions,' says Lindell Smith
Any measure to reduce gun violence is worth trying, but the launch of a new tip line is unlikely to overcome the deep distrust of the police felt by many communities, according to Lindell Smith, chair of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners.
Halifax Regional Police announced the launch of the tip line for people with information on violent crime Friday.
Smith, who is also the municipal councillor for Halifax Peninsula North, told CBC Radio Information Morning Halifax host Portia Clark that for some communities, having access to the police doesn't guarantee more information being shared.
"Communities, mostly [those] that are in poverty or in social housing ... don't have the feeling to want to speak to police when incidents happen, unfortunately," he said.
He said even when there is the chance of a monetary reward for information, as is the case with Crime Stoppers, people are reluctant to come forward.
Smith said with more money allocated for community patrol officers in the recent police budget, he hopes there will be more of a focus on community relations.
This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
We heard the chief talking there about creating more of a relationship and working on that end of things with the community. Is it your sense that that will be any more fruitful than a tip line?
It could be. Since I've been chair for the last year and a bit, one of the things that we've really been talking about is how do we make the community feel that we are their voice to the police? And that's really the role that we play. The HRP needs to also play a role and they have been trying to to improve that role.
But we know there's a lot of historic issues between police officers, especially in racialized communities, in trying to mend those relationships.
What's your sense of how well that relationship building has been going?
It's not going as good as I'd like to go, but we did have a pandemic the last two years and I've only been the chair for the last year and a bit. So that has put a damper on some of the in-person discussions and events that we wanted to do.
What I think helped was ... BLM [Black Lives Matter], the conversation around defund the police, and us doing studies and the board trying to be as active as possible and having community members come and speak to us on our budget.
I feel there's more eyes on the board and more folks who are aware of what the board's work is now. It's really working on the folks who don't pay attention to governance.
Is there anything in looking to the past and other spates of violence, 2016 being an example with 27 shootings, the nature of what was put in place at that time, that might work again or be repurposed?
That was a very, very tough year in terms of gun violence, especially for young Black males.
Me and another community member, DeRico Symonds, who worked for the city at the time, we were both in leadership roles and we were just trying to figure out how to support our community with us being in leadership roles for the city.
One of the things that came out of it was the community mobilization teams, CMTs, which are in the Prestons, Uniacke Square and Mulgrave Park. That work really allowed the community to respond to incidents that happened in their community. If there's a shooting, if there is a fire, if the power goes out, the CMTs respond and they are community members who live in the community and who have access to our folks in the city if they need a community centre opened.
What we saw in the past, since 2016, when there have been shootings, the CMTs would stand up, they would mobilize, they'd find a place for the community to go.
In North Preston, we've really seen it be successful. That is one thing we have that supports community. But with the violence that's happening, we need to figure out more.
How do you reassure people who might have information because they're scared of speaking up and the repercussions from within the community?
That's the difficult part because of that culture of no snitching.
All community members are not speaking because they feel that there could be repercussions. Again, when kids are harmed, to me that's off limits, and I feel that if you have information of kids being harmed, that's something that we shouldn't be afraid to come forward.
If it's a family member, I'd hope that folks would see the importance of speaking in a way that maybe keeps them anonymous.
I grew up in a culture where you didn't speak to police either so I understand where the sentiment is.
People might be feeling uncertain that HRP can get a handle on this. How confident do you feel?
I feel that what our police will do is serve as they always do. They continue to investigate and hopefully solve some of these cases.
I can assure, based on conversations with the chief and his folks on the ground, they continue to work their hardest to deal with the incidents that happened. The biggest part is trying to figure out how to not have them happen in the first place.
That's one question that I know that we need the community to help us figure out.
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With files from Information Morning Halifax