Pubdate: Tue, 11 Dec 2012
Source: Abbotsford Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 The Abbotsford Times
Author: Rochelle Baker


Experts: good message but questionable execution

An Abbotsford Police initiative that involves sending Christmas cards
featuring the chief in a Santa suit with a bullet-proof vest and
assault rifle to prolific offenders is getting mixed reviews from experts.

The APD Christmas card shows Chief Bob Rich in the traditional red
suit and white beard as well as body armour and a rifle with the
question: "Which list will you be on . . . naughty or nice?"

The card then suggests that the recipient is "one choice away from
changing your life," and encourages them to make a New Year's
resolution to leave crime behind and provides an APD helpline number
people can call.

APD is sending the greeting to prolific offenders, property offenders
and persons known for drug and gang activity in Abbotsford as part of
Operation Resolution, said Const. Ian MacDonald.

The cards are a reminder that the recipients have the opportunity to
make different choices in life if they "resolve" to do so, said MacDonald.

The aim of the image on the card is to draw people's attention to the
message and hopefully provoke reflection and change, he added.

"I don't know if a pastoral winterscape would have the same effect,"
said MacDonald.

Maggie Aronoff, executive director of the John Howard Society of the
Fraser Valley that works to reintegrate offenders back into society,
said the intent is good but the execution is questionable.

"The message on the card is great; it's just the picture that's the
problem," said Aronoff, adding she appreciates the APD is trying to
foster more positive interactions with offenders.

"I think the image is a little unfortunate. It might not get the
results they intend.

"You've got a mixed message with a Santa with gun and bullet proof
vest, I'm not sure who would reach out to that."

She also worried what children living with prolific offenders might
take away from the card.

"Kids might view that. What kind of relationship with police is this
setting up?"

Aronoff also expressed concerns about whether the police had the
resources and services in the community to meet the needs of offenders
seeking help, especially when specialized agencies like John Howard
were struggling to do similar work after suffering federal budget cuts.

"We've had a quarter of a million dollar reduction to our
reintegration services. We'd like to be part of the network of service
solutions . . . but who will the APD refer too?"

Irwin Cohen, director criminology and criminal justice at the
University of the Fraser Valley, commended the APD for trying to move
beyond its traditional role of simply catching criminals.

"The messaging and what they are trying to do is important and there
are potential positives, but is this the best way to reach out to
chronic offenders, I'm not sure," said Cohen.

The Christmas card appears to be part of a broader, innovative
strategy by APD to do more than tackle specific crimes but rather
address the community's public safety, he said.

It's important the offenders also see police as part of a potential
support network, he added.

"There may be some stumbling blocks in terms of execution but the
notion is quite forward thinking," said Cohen.

"They are thinking, 'our only role isn't just to catch you and arrest
you but be part of a larger solution. It will be interesting to see
how many phone calls they get."

The card's image wasn't meant to be contradictory or aggressive but
simply has the chief hamming it up in a Santa suit to draw peoples'
attention to the card, said MacDonald.

"It's not a red herring. It's a sincere appeal. We wouldn't set up a
phone line for the purposes of the greeting card."
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