Pubdate: Fri, 21 Sep 2007
Source: Calgary Sun, The (CN AB)
Copyright: 2007 The Calgary Sun
Author: Bill Kaufmann


Calgarians have their great white hope police chief in place and a 
law-and-order civic election on tap.

A summer of discontent has candidates falling over themselves to look 
tough and the chief of the police union sensing a fertile environment 
to take down an incumbent alderman.

Fear and anger are potent galvanizers, particularly when they're able 
to transcend reality and more complicated common sense.

Sure, a surge in police officers can help improve optics at street 
level and even erode Calgarians' paranoia level -- to a degree and for a time.

Far more questionable is how effective stepped-up enforcement can be 
when confronted by criminals motivated by lucrative, 
prohibition-fuelled drug profits or domestic abusers driven by passion.

There can never be enough police to head off the unpredictable ebb 
and flow of startling crime headlines. Those officers don't have much 
sway with a judicial system that has been condemned for its leniency 
- -- often for good reason.

Last week, just days after the unveiling of their knight in shining 
armour, what was the dominant reaction among officers to what should 
have been hailed a notable victory in the arrest of 29 druggies?

It was frustration that some of those scooped had been through the 
same drill more times than the Western Sedimentary Basin.

"There are a number of societal issues that strict enforcement won't 
remedy," said Deputy Police Chief Peter Davison.

More cruisers on the prowl won't dampen the economic boom that pads 
the pockets of drug dealers and organized criminals. A series of 
crackdowns in recent years calculated to make Calgary unwelcome to 
organized criminals hasn't staunched their flow into the city.

We've yet to see a solution to the toothpaste tube effect, where 
crime and criminals shut down in some quarters simply shift to others.

Overlooked by the public are crimes committed away from the glare 
shone on the city's inner city, in the outlying areas that comprise 
most of the city's footprint.

Some might have been shocked that the safety-enhancing 
recommendations of two inner-city neighbourhoods -- Inglewood and 
Ramsay -- weren't dominated by billy club crackdowns.

Redeveloping blighted or vacant land parcels and tackling 
homelessness and desperation topped their lists, as did treatment for 
substance abuse.

Regina has had some success in reducing crime in its hardscrabble 
North Central area using precisely the recipe cooked up by the 
Calgary communities.

The city has set forth demolishing or rebuilding derelict, 
druggie-haven homes, subject to the oversight of a newly empowered 
inspection team. "We need better housing to reduce crime, we need 
employment opportunities," said Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco.

And, yes, a more focused police presence has also been part of that 
solution, including putting more and tougher bail conditions on 
repeat offenders.

Then there's the politically exploitable hyperbole of Calgary's 
supposedly out-of-control crime rate largely contradicted by 
statistics. In many categories, crime levels have dipped slightly or 
remained static. The per capita crime rate has actually decreased.

We're not on track to hit the 1992 record of 32 homicides back when 
the city boasted 330,000 fewer souls.

Drug offences and the violence it brings is another matter, as 
residents of the inner city can attest.

Police can make some difference on the street, but it's largely up to 
Ottawa to spurn the failed U.S.-style war on drugs to decisively turn the tide.

Fat chance of that, though.

Calgary might just have to grow out of its growing pains painfully, 
no matter who's at the helm.

In the meantime, watch for more simplistic law-and-order sound bytes 
as the civic election nears.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom