AC­TION team yes, tick­et­ing strat­egy, no


The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

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.

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