By JEREMY HEIGHTON
Executive Director, NSBIA
THERE HAS BEEN A TON of press lately about de-funding police, and changing the way that policing is done in Canada and around the World.
I think it’s important to note that what is being discussed is not tossing the police out of precincts, firing everyone, and letting society sort itself out. What is being suggested is actually quite far from that.
The actual question is: “Are police the right response mechanism for what ails society today?”
I think it’s time to talk about a shift in the street response system.
It is reasonable to acknowledge that we have an opioid crisis that many of our support agencies are struggling to grapple with; we have a petty crime epidemic that is exacerbated by substance abuse, lack of coordinated supports for street populations, and; we have a judicial system which, in many people’s opinion, no longer operates in a way that builds confidence in our need to have a safe community.
But, we also have an opportunity right now, during this brief window, when the leaders of our global, national and local community are listening, to really dig into a redefined street response system.
In the last week, I have had a few hour-long phone calls with community leaders and business owners and we have discussed what a new reality could look like, what is needed, and how to build the better system. These are the ideas I heard in those conversations:
1) Redefine and enhance street outreach teams.
We currently have a variety of agencies, all with specific focuses, working parallel to each other. These organizations are not encouraged to pool funding or resources, instead being individually funded (usually by project) to deliver a specific set of services to a specific subset of the street level population. While there is consultation and general cooperation, a fully integrated triage and service response model would yield greater results, allowing street teams to streamline and integrate service options and program entry points as well as expand service hours to outside of the regular work day. This alone could lead to a significant reduction in police response resources. As it sits today, there is one Car 40 service vehicle here in Kamloops, and that team must remain with the individual they are assisting through their preliminary triage and treatment cycle. This often means that the Car 40 team can only take one call per day.
2) Redefine and Enhance Recovery Entry Point Options
We need a more robust set of entry options for preliminary treatment services. I have heard over and over again, how many hoops that outreach staff need to go through to find a bed for someone who has decided to make the change, or is in crises. Often, it takes days to find that space. If an individual is in a precarious health position, days is often too long and the opportunity gets lost. We need more provisions for sobering, detox and initial triage care, a place where people can go and access credible and professional care that goes beyond a mat or drop in program. When we can get an individual into care, it reduces the strain on police resources, and increases the potential that the individual will choose care that can lead to recovery.
3) Review and possibly redefine our Housing System outcomes.
We need to move from emergency based wet housing to a mixture of wet, semi-dry and dry housing. We need to provide options for housed individuals who are trying to beat the addictions (as an example) which is not exposed to an active user living in the suite next door. We need these housing options to include: detox and management strategies, life skills development, and slowly to transition residents to a market housing program, when they are ready to re-emerge. Good housing that is responsive to an individual’s needs reduces the need of RCMP to respond, and allows the qualified social worker or outreach worker to find strategies which may be more effective than incarceration, reduce costs and pressure on the justice system.
4) Good Neighbour Contracts need strengthening
As a condition of providing services throughout our community, housing and general service providers should be required to sign more strident good neighbour agreements. A high bar should be set for service providers which stipulate the community expectation of their operations: managing internal issues, managing internal clients, managing the outside service zone within 100 meters, and requiring the managing of community impacts of their site operations such as litter, loitering and needle debris.
5) Pay the right people to do the right job.
So many of our outreach workers are temporary, contract or short-term funded. Often they are paid lower wages, due to financial constraints from funders and, often, they experience some of the most challenging working conditions we could imagine. This is where funding needs to go: to pay good people, who do exceptional work a living wage, year round. These outreach folks have the skills, training and knowledge to take on some really difficult situations. It’s time we pay appropriately qualified professionals appropriately for their skills and knowledge. With the right staff doing the right work, RCMP is required less frequently, leading to a reduced requirement for resources and more effective delivery of services.
6) Provincial and Federal supports need redefinition
Since the mid 1980s community has been asked to take on the challenges of both mental health services and drug addiction responses. This is a challenge as our predator drug dealers and petty criminals operate with impunity and disdain toward enforcement personnel. there is no longer and repercussions for the predator among us. This needs to be revisited, and yes, in the appropriate circumstances police need power to detain and the court system needs to incarcerate, in order to deter criminal activity. This also requires a review of the Mental Health Act, Criminal Justice System as a whole, Criminal Code of Canada, and all appropriate legislation that allows for the balancing of societal and individual needs.
These are the recommendations that I’ve been hearing. What do you want to see, if there were a redefined system?
Jeremy Heighton is the executive director of the North Shore Business Improvement Association. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.