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Steve Woolrich: Principles of policing from 1829 still apply today

As this series of columns on Sir ­ Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing comes to a close, we’re reminded that his ideals remain incredibly relevant today despite the fact they were proposed in 1829.
Victoria’s citizens are vital in helping the police maintain order, Steve Woolrich writes. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

As this series of columns on Sir ­ Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing comes to a close, we’re reminded that his ideals remain incredibly relevant today despite the fact they were proposed in 1829. These principles established a solid foundation that police services have continued to build upon over the years.

Peel’s ninth, and final, principle states: “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”

The coronavirus has played a role in crime throughout the pandemic. We see property crimes, violence and numerous demonstrations playing out during every newscast, and read about it daily in our newspapers.

While crime and disorder seem to be on the rise, many would argue that we still live in one of the safest countries in the world.

There is no question that tensions are high, we were isolated for months, and there is no shortage of COVID-19 protocols to adhere to. Everyone’s mental health and well-being is being tested.

The visible evidence of police action in dealing with these crime waves is like a tsunami that continues to wreak havoc on many cities, including our own. While the Victoria police continue to do their best to calm the storm, citizens seem supportive — for the most part. It’s a good sign, but the price tag for policing our city continues to climb.

Maclean’s magazine has an interactive tool that offers us a glimpse at crime trends. Last November, they published their findings, and it’s based on Statistics Canada data.

We should always keep in mind that statistics can be skewed, but it does provide a snapshot that can help us. The tool can rank cities by the various types of crime, but is set to show the “Violent Crime Severity Index” by default.

Victoria and Esquimalt ranked 32nd out of 237 cities on the index, with a violent-crime score of 117. It marks an increase, and we see this playing out in real time in our community. We have work ahead, and the solutions we adopt must be proactive and collaborative.

“Innovation” is a word that you don’t often hear when people are talking about policing. We are evolving, and in 2013, Deloitte LLP produced a resource document titled “In the Spirit of 1829 — Harnessing digital, social and mobile technologies to fulfil Peelian Principles.”

Their brief is well worth a look, and explores how our technology fused with Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing can “empower the police to fulfil their core mission in the light of service improvement, cost reduction and the delivery of today’s agenda, and empowering citizens to play a greater role in their own safety.”

As citizens, we must rise up to the challenge of this role for the greater good. It’s a reminder that, as citizens, we are integral to helping the police reduce crime and disorder.

It seems fitting to end this series of columns with a short quote by the late Richard Wagamese, one of my favourite authors. He wrote:

“All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. We can do that and when we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world, one story at a time.”

There is no greater story than community.

Let’s create the best possible story, one that helps everyone feel safe and connected. This can be Victoria’s story, one we can all be proud of.

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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