Community programs may serve as models to reduce downtown crime

A new city report is touting the success of three community-based crime prevention programs in Ottawa, offering a potential model for downtown groups to reduce criminal activity in Centretown.

“It is a great time for communities and organizations to approach us,” says Nancy Worsfold, executive director of Crime Prevention Ottawa.

The city-funded agency recently presented a report to the community and protective services committee linking lower crime rates to special community-building initiatives in Vanier, Lowertown and the Pinecrest-Queenway area.

In a series of pilot projects carried out since 2007, Crime Prevention Ottawa partnered with organizations in each community, including citizens’ associations and health-care providers, to launch simple, community-based programs aimed at engaging young people and others in collective activities and reducing crime.

“It’s all about community engagement,” says Stefan Cherry, liaison officer with Together for Vanier.

“It’s all about neighbours getting to know neighbours and the services that they can rely on.”

The results presented this month to the community and protective services committee showed that the crime rates in the three communities have dropped significantly more than the city’s overall rate.

Pinecrest-Queensway, for example, has seen a 27-per-cent reduction in crime rates between 2006 and 2011. During the same period of time, Ottawa’s overall crime rate has only been reduced by 15 per cent.

“It is easy to see the buy-in and positive results from this program,” Cherry says. “I would absolutely encourage other neighbourhoods and communities to start similar initiatives.”

Together for Vanier has organized a number of events to bring together the community and individual neighbourhoods, including “Movies in the Park.”

These free events were held in different parks throughout the community so residents could get to know one another while watching films, says Cherry.

As a result, criminal activity in the parks decreased and families began to use them again. And Vanier’s outdoor movie nights inspired a similar program in Lowertown.

Vanier Caravan is an example of an educational resource for residents provided by Together for Vanier.

Members of partner organizations go to different events and locations through the community sharing information on the program and different ways residents can get involved.

Another educational initiative is the Neighbourhood Toolkit. This online resource is available to share ideas, information and resources from other communities.

“Our online toolkit is a great way for all neighbourhoods to get information and learn about crime prevention,” Worsfold says.

Crime Prevention Ottawa staff are available to come to community meetings to do in-person demonstrations of the Neighbourhood Toolkit, she says.

“We are always looking into how to keep our community safe,” Robert Dekker, vice-president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association. “Though we have not started this type of initiative on our own, we are lucky to have had the Somerset Community Police Centre in our community.”

While the police centre had a storefront location on Somerset Street for years, it was recently relocated to an office at city hall, a move criticized by Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes.

Worsfold has raised concerns in the past that Centretown’s mix of residential and commercial buildings impedes “social cohesion,” an important buffer against crime.

“Communities that know each other, communities where there’s social cohesion, are communities which are safer,” she has previously told Centretown News.