ACTION team yes, ticketing strategy, no
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
It doesn’t look like the Hamilton Police Service’s Addressing Crime Trends in Our Neighbourhoods (ACTION) unit is going anywhere, although it has been dogged by controversy. Four officers charged with issuing bogus tickets have been found not guilty. The current police chief likes the ACTION teams. Downtown Hamilton business owners generally like them, too. It’s not hard to see why.
They are a noticeable, physical manifestation of a strong police presence in the neighbourhood. Their bright yellow jackets and imposing presence send a strong message: We’re here to serve, protect and make the neighbourhood safer. So what’s not to like?
Critics of the ACTION unit say it sucks resources from other areas that need them more. But that concern has been mitigated to a point with the unit becoming expert on door-to-door canvassing after major crimes. And ACTION team supporters argue their mere presence is a deterrent to crime. In short, there doesn’t appear to be a compelling case for getting rid of the unit.
But there are things about the unit’s work that should change. For one thing, the strategy of handing out tickets to so-called “regulars” — typically the sorts of people who make business-owners uncomfortable — as a means to move them out of a particular area, needs to stop if it hasn’t already. The tickets are typically ignored. The people receiving them have no money or resources. To a point, tickets may intimidate them into moving, but that’s a temporary fix at best. The regulars return the next day and the process starts again. It makes no sense.
There is irony here. The same police service that employs tickets as an ineffective tool also operates the Social Navigator Program. That’s a program that links the same “regulars” with resources that can actually help them in areas like obtaining shelter and managing addictions. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t work in all situations as the client has to be willing to accept help. But surely it’s a more proactive and productive tool than the blunt instrument of handing out tickets.
Police have in the past denied that a strict quota system is in place, but the trial heard there was an expectation that officers write 100 tickets per year. Handing out tickets may look good on paper. They may help send a message that police are taking concrete action to improve public safety. But they don’t work. And often they victimize people who are already victims of circumstance, mental impairment or bad fortune.
So by all means, let’s keep the ACTION unit on the job. But let’s not keep applying ineffective Band-Aids. We need more work like Social Navigator, whether that’s done by police or other agencies, and less reliance on what amount to ineffective, old-fashioned techniques that, for the most part, don’t work.