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Jan 2018 | Safety & Security Issue

PLANNING TO ELIMINATE CRIME IN NORTH BATTLEFORD
RYAN MACKRELL, CITY OF NORTH BATTLEFORD

One of the most common topics of discussion in and around the City of North Battleford, Saskatchewan is crime. A quick Google search will attest to that. With several recent national articles and extra media coverage on criminal activity, there is no shortage of information. A recent article in Maclean’s magazine refers to North Battleford as “Canada’s most dangerous place” and an article in Regina’s Leader Post referred to the City as the “Crime Capital of Canada.” Since the Crime Severity Index (CSI) was introduced in 2009, North Battleford has ranked number one in violent and non-violent crimes until 2017, when North Battleford’s ranking dropped to number two in violent crimes.

 

“North Battleford is home to some of the nation’s best leisure facilities, a beautiful river valley, top playgrounds and so many other benefits that are overlooked by people that aren’t residents. Residents who live and work in this region understand there is more to the City than crime.”

 

I. North Battleford, Saskatchewan

 

North Battleford is a small city of 14,315 residents, located on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River.  It is surrounded by the Town of Battleford (4,429), seven First Nation Reserves and several small communities. Because of its unique geography, the City serves approximately 40,000 people within a radius of 60 kilometers. This creates a challenge for the City as it only has a tax base to support 14,000 people with the need and demand for 40,000. There are simply not sufficient resources and services for a City of 14,000 to serve a regional population of 40,000.  Ultimately, this will create gaps in the system.  In 2014, the City of North Battleford adopted a Community Safety Strategy to help counteract the gaps related to crime.  This strategy is a holistic, service-based approach based upon five pillars: creating opportunities; helping individuals and families with complex needs; coordination of existing programs and seeking new programs; crime prevention/crime suppression; and engagement of people within the “regional community”.

 

II. Community Safety Planning

 

One of the first action items from this plan was the appointment of Herb Sutton as the Community Safety Coordinator of North Battleford. Mr. Sutton works extensively in North Battleford and the surrounding region to carry out this strategy on a daily basis. Some of the noteworthy initiatives that his work has produced include: Citizens on Patrol, Eyes that Care Campaign, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) Committee, Safety Acceptance Guidance and Empowerment Group (SAGE), Concern For Youth, and working with the RCMP and local Community Safety Officers. One of Mr. Sutton’s key partnerships is working closely with City Council and with City Administration, specifically the Planning Division.  This partnership, and the support that is generated from the local government and administration, are foundational to his work.  Without this support, the Community Safety Plan would not be an effectual document.

The role of a planner within a municipality is defined by the specific needs and dynamics of that community. For the most part there will always be the basic planning functions such as Planning Legislation, Zoning Bylaws, Land Use Policy, Development Permits, Subdivisions, etc. Applying the community needs and wants into those duties and delivering the community objectives is what planning really entails. Anyone can read and interpret a bylaw, but a planner’s work should reflect and improve the community in which it’s being applied. That is what North Battleford is trying to do.

In 2014, the City of North Battleford facilitated training for Herb Sutton and the City Planner in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and SafeGrowth®. CPTED and SafeGrowth® are training programs of a community safety planning and development process. These programs include methods of neighbourhood risk assessment and crime analysis. One key objective is for experts to not strictly apply prevention strategies, but rather to work with neighbourhood inhabitants and service providers collaboratively, to organize a coherent plan towards building a safe, viable and sustainable neighbourhood.

 

“Creating a sense of community has long term effects on creating safer places to live. People take pride, ownership, responsibility and look out for one another if they get to know their neighbours and have a sense of place to the area.”

 

Following this training, City Administration began incorporating CPTED principles into their daily work plans and implementing specific CPTED projects across the City.  City leaders acknowledged the importance and effectiveness of this training and brought in world renowned CPTED and SafeGrowth practitioners to North Battleford to train a significant amount of staff.  One of the major goals of this training was to build internal capacity by having key directors, managers and labourers trained with CPTED principles. From this training came the formation of a City Council approved CPTED Committee that meets monthly to discuss ongoing CPTED projects, new projects and reports back to City Council.

One of the biggest projects from the CPTED Committee is Formalizing Neighbourhoods in North Battleford. This project works at establishing neighbourhoods with formal boundaries and official names in North Battleford. The City recognizes that “place matters”, promoting not only the well-being of individuals but also the health and prosperity of the broader community. Launching an effective community safety program into neighbourhoods with public interaction will create a sense of place for the residents, reduce petty crime and help establish formalized neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods represent key environmental settings for residents to interact and build a sense of place.

Encouraging residents to get to know their neighbours through Formalizing Neighbourhoods is essential in establishing these neighbourhoods and this is being done by encouraging Block Parties and other non-informal activities amongst residents. Creating a sense of community has long term effects on creating safer places to live. People take pride, ownership, responsibility and look out for one another if they get to know their neighbours and have a sense of place in the area.

Block Parties are an easy way to foster neighbourhood cohesion and encourage positive interactions amongst neighbours. The CPTED Committee has promoted block parties in the community for the past three years. The Committee has worked with City Council to waive the application permit fees associated with block parties. Council has also declared a weekend during the year as an official North Battleford Block Party Weekend.  Every block party registered that weekend was entered to win a case of free hot dogs and hamburgers. Barricade rentals, delivery and pick-up are all now provided free of charge, where in the past there was a $75 delivery charge and $100 deposit. The purpose of this is to promote block parties by making the process as easy as possible for residents.

The City had two block parties in 2014 and 2015. 2016 was the first year of promoting and waiving fees and there was a total of 14 parties. 2017 was the second year of promoting and waiving fees, and it produced a total of 13 block parties. The ideology behind block parties is to create a positive atmosphere for interactions amongst neighbours.  Research has demonstrated that creating environments for positive interactions between neighbours increases the sense of belonging, establishes new friendships and most importantly results in safer streets where people are healthier and happier. 

Art Alley is a collaborative project between CPTED, the City of North Battleford, North Battleford Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and the RCMP. Art Alley is the first project of its kind in North Battleford and will help transform the exterior façade of downtown to look vibrant, creating a positive space for the community. Research shows that beautifying an area that regularly attracts negative activity helps instill greatly ownership and interest in a space, thereby reducing unfavourable activity. Art Alley has been active for two years, has completed four murals in the Downtown and inspired several other murals in the area.

 

 

CPTED, in conjunction with the City, has also introduced Street Murals as a community engagement strategy and neighbourhood capacity building initiative. One of the key outcomes of a street mural is a traffic calming measure. As motorists approach the intersection they notice the mural and instinctively slow down. Additionally, the painting of the mural is a community building event. People in the area are strongly encouraged to come out and paint the mural together and get to know one another.  The murals typically last a year or two and become faded, which is not seen as a negative, but rather another opportunity for the public to go out and repaint or redo another mural on the street and spend more time together as a community.  The two street mural projects that were completed in 2017 were very successful.  Over 30 local residents came out for each project.  Friendships were renewed, and new connections were made during the activity.  The projects also provided opportunity for informal discussions about community safety in the neighbourhood, and encouraged residents to commit to watching out for each other and to take responsibility for keeping their neighbourhood safe.

 

 

Another role of the CPTED Committee is to conduct, promote and monitor safety audits in the community. A safety audit is a collaboration amongst residents that allows people to assess how safe or unsafe they feel in their surroundings. These audits are used by the CPTED Committee to make recommendations about the area to reflect CPTED principles and the wishes of the community. North Battleford has conducted over ten audits in the past two years with over a hundred recommendations, resulting in countless improvements to several areas around the city.

The City recently adopted a Downtown Revitalization Action Plan which reflects a specific element related to CPTED. During the formation of the plan, two safety audits were conducted in the Downtown and a list of recommendations were formed from these audits. These recommendations became part of the action items in the plan. The City now requires CPTED principles in all major development plans.

Another crime prevention approach was printing and mailing out Residential Safety Brochures to every resident in North Battleford. These brochures consisted of tips and important messages that encourage residents to get to know their neighbours, to pay more attention to image and maintenance of their property, as well as providing safety tips related to lighting, and checklists for home security. Important contact information such as Fire Department, RCMP, and other emergency numbers were included, as well as ways to become active by joining Citizens on Patrol or starting neighbourhood watches.

The key factor in carrying out all of these projects is Public Engagement. The need to build community safety “with” the community, and not “for” it, is embedded in CPTED research.  The City has prioritized public engagement as essential to planning in North Battleford, so the public will be consulted to identify the issues and concerns that arise throughout processes. The City has challenged itself to go beyond the traditional community engagement model of calling a single community meeting to ask for community input.  Instead, City planners and staff have organized and attended a wide variety of community events bringing residents together in neighbourhoods to talk about safety, community, neighbourhood boundaries and any other topics that the public desires.  It has been determined it is essential to work with the community members and not be reactive in nature, to earn their trust and gather their input openly.

Analysis of some of the crime statistics from the RCMP indicate that there are many “crimes of opportunity.”  Vehicles, houses and garages that are left unsecured provide easy targets for potential criminals. To help address this, the City has created a new initiative.  Eyes That Care Program is a partnership between the City of North Battleford, CPTED and the RCMP to implement crime preventative measures to reduce preventable crimes. The program encourages residents to sign up and commit to watching over their neighbourhood, lock-up their belongings, and receive updates on events or news regarding crime in the City. In exchange for signing up, residents receive a free solar motion sensor light, an Eyes That Care display sign and an opportunity for residents to nominate a Monthly Eyes that Care Neighbourhood Champion who will be entered to win a $50 gift card.

The City of North Battleford includes a large First Nation population with over 20 percent of its’ residents identifying as Indigenous. Engaging and collaborating with local First Nations is vital towards creating a complete picture of the needs and wants of the community. The history of poor relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in North Battleford poses unique challenges for engagement. Within our community exist issues relating to trust, poverty, crime, addiction, and racism. Working with our communities and trying to better understand their history is the only way to overcome these challenges. Reconciliation is a term just beginning to enter into the discussions, but it is early in the process. There is much more work to do in order to see this become a reality. Decades of poor relations will not be reconciled overnight, but having conversations and working together on projects is a start towards understanding the complete picture. The City has recently begun holding these dialogues, with the inclusion of Elders and local First Nation tribal councils in these community development projects.

 

 

Housing is another key component identified in our community to help reduce crime if properly planned. A 2015 study outlined the current state of the housing market in North Battleford and identified several gaps in the system. Many of these gaps exist at the lower end of the housing continuum. Affordable housing, senior housing, homelessness, transitional housing and supportive housing are all areas recognized as needing more support in North Battleford, as an effective housing continuum in the City is very important. However, housing is not necessarily a function of local municipalities and is typically viewed as a Federal or Provincial responsibility. City Council and Administration realized that waiting for another level of government to step in is not going to solve the issues that exist currently, and have taken a lead role in closing the existing gaps in the housing market. The City has partnered with the Provincial Government to fund a Housing Action Plan which is to be completed in February of 2018. This study will outline the next steps, programs and roles needed for community organizations, the City, and other levels of government to use as tools to overcome the existing housing challenges and to enable the City of North Battleford for success in the future goals related to housing.

Community-based organizations are essential to overcoming local challenges. Some organizations in North Battleford were competing against one another for funding and projects. With help from the City, these organizations now work together and hold monthly meetings for collaboration and pooling resources to achieve common goals. Many initiatives are coming to fruition with a local group of housing partners working together to build a Rooming House for the most vulnerable “hard to house” people in North Battleford. A local HUB also meets regularly and shares resources to achieve similar results. Other agencies and organizations have joined forces to do the same.  Having these groups working together – rather than in silos – strengthens relationships and builds capacity in the community, but most importantly achieves results in the most effective and efficient manner. 

 

III. Concluding Thoughts

 

While North Battleford may rank amongst the top cities on the Crime Severity Index, if other aspects of the City are measured, such as the level of community commitment, strength and safety initiatives, it would rank amongst the top in those categories too. Regardless of the negative articles written about this community and of the criminal activity that occurs, our Civic leaders and members of the public are committed to improving North Battleford. There is no shortage of work to be done and this is recognized by everyone involved. This is why North Battleford is one of the strongest communities today. Most of the crime prevention strategies being implemented today will take several years before the full benefits are realized, but that doesn’t mean they should not be put into action or done. Frustration and impatience can be expected from some in the community, but continuing to pursue research-based approaches to community safety will pay dividends down the road.

Finding new ways to promote these initiatives is a task in itself, and is done so in part by reassuring residents that more than just crime occurs in North Battleford. North Battleford is home to some of the nation’s best leisure facilities, a beautiful river valley, top playgrounds and so many other benefits that are overlooked by people that aren’t residents. Residents who live and work in this region understand there is more to the City than crime. Unfortunately, a headline of “North Battleford Crime Capital” sells more magazines than “North Battleford’s Beautiful River Valley Increases Quality of Life”. It is up to our citizens of our community to rally behind one another and to sell the positive features of our city and our region – by working as partners towards a common goal for a safer, more viable community. 

 

RYAN MACKRELL, MCIP, RPP is the City Planner for the City of North Battleford. Ryan has an honours degree in Regional Urban Planning from the University of Saskatchewan and a Certificate in Local Government Authority from the University of Regina. He was born and raised in North Battleford and now lives there with his wife and three kids.