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Steve Woolrich: Paradigm shift is not ending of police, it’s a beginning

While there is no shortage of challenges on everyone’s plate right now, let’s remind ourselves that we’re all in this together.

While there is no shortage of challenges on everyone’s plate right now, let’s remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. Policing is certainly no exception, and we must do our best to co-operate with those that protect us by putting their lives on the line each and every day — across our country.

As we continue to explore various alternatives to improve upon policing models, we can once again look back at the work of Robert Peel and his nine principles of policing. Peel’s third principle is “to recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.”

There is no question that maintaining this respect, and securing it has become extremely problematic due to the rising number of violent incidents, many of them playing out as a result of protests, and riots around the world.

Working closely with various police departments and officers over the past three decades has enabled me to look carefully at the flipside of the coin, the story that’s not often heard or the one that’s cast aside.

It’s co-operation that ensures balance, and with that comes more willingness to be law-abiding citizens and carry some of the weight. There are many ways to contribute to better policing through collaboration.

In Timothy Crowe’s book Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), he introduces some of the implications for public action. He suggests that “information must be used to enhance co-operative efforts.” There is no better way of achieving this than by working together, and empowering neighbourhoods.

Crowe goes on to suggest that “many crime-prevention programs were based on a number of compelling social theories that did not pan out in the implementation stage. Accordingly, local units of government, criminal-justice agencies, and public-housing authorities are worn out with many of the tried and failed program approaches and philosophies.”

Two areas of crime prevention and control have continued to surface positively in evaluations and in common experience. These are interagency program approaches and CPTED, says Crowe.

Some of our laws have ultimately created a divide making it difficult for the police to secure the willing co-operation of the public, little own securing the observance of these laws. Police have been tasked with the war on drugs, homelessness, addictions, mental health and the sex trade among others, all issues that have clearly exasperated many groups and the general public.

In Alex Vitale’s book The End of Policing, he writes: “Community policing, body cameras, and increased money for training reinforce a false sense of police legitimacy and expand the reach of the police into communities and private lives.

“More money, more technology, and more power and influence will not reduce the burden or increase the justness of policing. Ending the war on drugs, abolishing school police, ending broken-windows policing, developing robust mental-health care, and creating low-income housing systems will do much more to reduce abusive policing.”

Let’s begin to empower neighbourhoods while encouraging the police to play more of a supportive role. Communities such as Colwood are exploring alternatives that do just that — empower residents and neighbourhoods. This goes a long way in helping the police deal with serious crime, and not get bogged down in matters that can be addressed through increased citizen engagement and mobilization.

Many communities, and their residents have underestimated their influence, and the critical role they play in reshaping police services during this shift in awareness.

The fear of crime should also be factored into this equation. Many of the laws our police uphold are a result of our own beliefs that we’re all in danger, and that we need to be protected. In his book Risk, Dan Gardner writes that “whatever challenges we face, it remains indisputably true that those living in the developed world are the safest, healthiest and richest humans who ever lived.”

We have entered a paradigm shift in policing. It’s not about the ending of police, it’s about a new beginning.

The public is already helping shape what’s ahead, and politicians and police leaders will need to pay close attention if respect, co-operation and observance of laws is to be restored.


Steve Woolrich is a crime prevention practitioner and the principal of Rethink Urban’s collaborative focusing on community safety and well-being.

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