Helping Stop Neighbourhood Crime

As an Edmonton Public School Trustee, I’ve been engaged in a number of conversations over the last several years about eliminating neighbourhood crime, something that I know keeps many of us up at night. I've tried to collate my best tips and tricks and welcome your suggestions that I can add to the list. 

Reminder: During school hours if you ever see suspicious activity around a school, call 780-429-8000 and be connected to the EPSB Switchboard who can assist you. 

Edmonton’s Chief of Police often says “the social determinants of crime are the same as the social determinants of health”. We know that when we have more poverty, folks living rough, untreated mental health challenges, and substance abuse in our city, we are going to see more crime. We know we need to address the root causes of crime and focus more on prevention. While we work as a community to make these shifts, there are plenty of things we can do to keep ourselves and our families safe from worry and build better community safety. 

I want to share a few personal stories from my personal experience working with neighbours around the city. There are many quick steps we can take together to reduce neighbourhood crime.

In 2009 I participated in a 12 week program called “Citizens Police Academy '' hosted by the Edmonton Police Service designed to train and engage citizens who work in interfacing roles with the EPS. Each week we learned about different operations of the EPS. I’ve also participated in other crime-reduction initiatives such as Mill Woods Community Patrol and Neighbourhood Watch. I thought I would share with you a few of the tips and tricks that I have found can help. If each of us help to “secure our block” we will be much better off.

BIKE INDEX: Register now - your Bike, Chariot, Stroller etc.

If you have not already, open a new broswer tab right now and get registered. Go to any of the bike shops in Edmonton and they can help you out. https://www.edmontonpolice.ca/CrimePrevention/HomePropertySafety/ProtectYourProperty/BikeIndex

Facebook groups such as Biketheft are also a huge help to recovering lost bikes.

Get a really good bike lock (and follow these tips from Bike Edmonton) and lock up your things in the garage. It’s a last line of defense, but it will help you for those days you leave the garage open.

There is no substitute for the elimination of temptation.

I keep my doors locked, my garage windows covered, and I have hidden any valuables in my car. Every night we make sure all toys, bikes, or any items are hidden in the garage and the door is locked. A solid lock on the garage is a great deterrent and prevents even the hardest bodycheck. It sounds simple but just put your things away. Sadly, even petty cash in the coffee cup can be a delicious temptation for someone hitting hard times.

Neighbourhood contact list.

Even if your neighbours are right across the road or alley, can you text them? Do you know their names? If their front window or garage was left open could you call?

In each place I’ve lived, I printed off a slip with our names and phone numbers, introduced ourselves, and offered some cookies to our neighbours as a friendly gesture to open a line of communication. You might feel a bit weird, but I can tell you first hand the neighbours all enjoyed meeting someone else, having contact and they were almost all willing to be an emergency contact or pet sitter! That contact list has helped us on a number of occasions, including a basement flooding issue.

Again, there is no substitute for knowing your neighbours and helping to keep an eye out for one another. 

Let there be light: the beauty of motion sensor lights.

One light is often not enough. I spent two years as an Infantry Reservist and one of the concepts you are taught is about having overlapping fields of fire. It may sound complicated but think of it this way: the fields of light should overlap, leaving no dark spaces.

Building on that theory, I’ve worked with my North/South neighbours to set up a number of perimeter motion sensor lights between our two properties. It's great if you can install them high enough that they are out of reach of wayward sticks. That's where having the neighbourly cooperation comes in. My garage has an extra light on it on the high side to light up my neighbours garage pad. 

Solar-powered motion sensor lights that you can mount are bright, cheap, and easy. If someone is walking down the alley, they are lit up by a new light every 10 meters or so. I can see from my kitchen if someone is heading down the alley and what direction based on the light patterns of my neighbors. My neighbours and I have also collaborated with multiple cameras and other safety measures. We look out for one another.

Not only is this safe, it’s neighbourly as the alley is incredibly icy.

The “Honey I’m home” sensor.

I installed a laser sensor in the backyard which, if you are attempting to enter my garage, triggers a beep in the master bedroom loud enough that I can hear it throughout the house. I’ve woken up at night to the beep and found it was the local rabbit helping me with my lettuce, so I’ve adjusted height levels and sites.

I got the idea from a friend in Strathcona neighbourhood who has a gate alarm that actually triggers lights to turn on in the house. He has a video of a person trying their garage, seeing lights turn on in the home, and then running away. Again, the practical application is when my wife or I come home with groceries or are coming home, the sensor alerts the other to go and help with the unload.

If you have a gate, you can install sensors to trigger when the gate opens or closes - a wonderful feature if you have children. Protip: Keep your spare set of car keys beside your bed so if you hear or see trouble outside, you can set off your car alarm, not only alerting your neighbours but likely sending culprits on a dash. Alarms can also be installed inside of your garage, should a door be opened.

 

Police, but maybe collective action.

Renting? With problem neighbours, I've found it to be greatly effective to unite with other tenants and threaten to withhold rent. Landlords tend to respond much more promptly when a number of you threaten to impact their bottom line until problem behaviors are addressed. When the police were unable to help us with a drug dealer, the landlord ended up addressing the problem first.

Report everything and take the time to alert your neighbours (see above about milk and cookies!). Edmonton Police Service logs all calls and tracks the data to determine where more attention may be needed. If recurring events are happening in a hot spot they will patrol that area more often. 

Set up a Neighbourhood Watch Patrol/Join your Community League and nominate yourself as the Community Safety Rep.

In addition to police presence, forming a dog walking group or a neighbourhood watch task force can be an easy way to discourage negative activity in your area and lets those living on your street know that there are people keeping an eye out regularly. A more active community where people are regularly visible can be a good deterrent. But, if you still feel that more police presence in your neighbourhood is needed, reaching out to your community league to find out who your local beat officer is can be a good way to get connected and start that conversation.

Recently I sat in on the 2020 AGM of Neighbourhood Watch. I was shocked to hear that they have an operating budget of one casino ($70,000 or so) every two years. There needs to be a much more expanded and targeted investment in neighbourhood crime prevention and citizen involvement. 

Smile, you are on camera!

I've heard a lot of good things about the Wyze cameras, but because technology and cost are changing so frequently, I'm choosing not to comment here and encouraging you to do your own research or reach out to me and I can direct you to a few friends who have recently found really creative solutions. Of course, do your own research on privacy and big tech too.

Personally, I think it's way more important and cost-effective to get the elimination of prevention and the deterrent pieces right first.

Police, but maybe call Bylaw first.

I was working with a few neighbours through an issue with a neighbourhood drug house (and unnofficial stroller, bike, and toolshop sales center). The police officers I was dealing with suggested that sometimes faster results could be achieved by calling City Bylaw, and coordinating 311 complaints with neighbours against the property in question for their numerous violations. In this case there were quite a few.

If there was a derelict landlord profiteering from the proceeds of crime and disorder, fines and letters from the city help jolt them back to good neighbourliness. In some cases, I’ve found Bylaw to be faster and more responsive. (Online Edmonton Bylaw Complaint Form)

911, but maybe 211 first. 

If you happen upon someone who appears intoxicated or lost, or generally in distress, but isn’t an immediate danger to you or themselves, you can call 211, then press #3. This will connect you to a team trained in nonviolent crisis intervention who can give that person a ride to a shelter or somewhere they will be safe.

For a few years now, REACH Edmonton, in partnership with Boyle Street Community Services, Hope Mission, Canadian Mental Health Association (211 program) has been running the highly successful 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team to provide comprehensive, coordinated access to 24-hour services for vulnerable citizens. The purpose is to reduce the need for expensive medical, judicial, and police interventions, freeing up police to do real police work and helping residents feel safer. 

 

Let’s remember that hurt people, hurt people, and have some humanity for the people we may be afraid of.

These are incredibly frustrating issues and the nuisance, anger, but most of all feelings of violation that comes from petty crime are very real and I totally get it. I do. But deep down, I know we have to “love our neighbours” including those who might be trying to resell our bicycle. 

Living for a year in McCauley, I experienced firsthand how we need (as an Elder recently put it to me) "more rehabilitation and less remand". Safe consumption, addictions support, mental health supports -- these are what are needed to address the root causes of crime.

We must support policies that focus on eliminating the root causes of crime rather than failed “tough on crime” policies or ignoring the science of addiction. Not only are these policies more economically efficient, they restore humanity to our archaic, broken, criminal systems. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but if we are serious about fixing addiction, we have to invest and stop the UCP cuts to early learning.

According to the police chiefs, 85% of the calls the police take are non-emergency and many of the police we need are tied up supporting mental health related calls. I agree with Mayor Iveson that we can’t “police our way out of crime”.

We need to take responsibility for our own neighbourhoods, and our neighbours as well.

City of Edmonton, Neighbourhood Response Guide: https://www.edmonton.ca/residential_neighbourhoods/fire_safety/neighbourhood-response-guide.aspx

HBO - The Wire: Still remains one of the best resources about unpacking the complex root causes of crime and the failed war on drugs.

 

I want to hear from you: 

What other tips or tricks have you found to secure your property and help keep you and your neighbours safe?

I'll add your suggestions below!

 

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