Collaborating for Community Safety and Well-being in Ontario

By Hugh C. Russell and Norman E. Taylor

Published March 18, 2004

In a 2012 article written for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police entitled Crime Prevention in Trying Times:  Reflections and Insights from Niagara, we observed:

“Reducing crime and social disorder by mobilizing and supporting others might be among our highest yield policing strategies and among the most affordable options for high crime, marginalized environments.”

Two years later, 250 professionals gathered on February 5th at the Toronto Police College to discuss collaborating across sectors in order to increase community safety. Convened by the Ontario Working Group (OWG) on Collaborative Risk-driven Community Safety, this symposium included political leaders, executives and practitioners in health care, mental health, addictions, child protection, education, corrections, criminal justice, community development, housing, and police. Ontario is mobilizing for community safety and well-being.

The OWG will soon release practical tools and guidelines for collaborating to make Ontario communities safer and healthier. They result from a year-long effort by committed pioneers in community safety from Toronto, Sudbury, and the regions of Waterloo and Peel and joined by North Bay, Halton Region, Chatham-Kent, and the Ontario Provincial Police.

Multiple causes demand a blended response

The notion of “risk” drives the collaboration movement. Poverty, sub-standard housing, addictions, negative parenting, and other factors tear at the social fabric that protects individuals and families from serious harm.  Professionals in all sectors recognize that each has unique perspectives on these personal, social and community issues. Further, that intervention to mitigate negative impacts on individuals and families must include the specialized knowledge, skills and resources of a blend of police, social services, mental health, housing, and others.

OWG symposium participants heard about a successful collaborative strategy growing out of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Known in Ontario as the situation table, it mobilizes immediate, collaborative interventions to mitigate situations of acutely elevated risk of harm and to connect people to the services they most need.  Some Ontario communities have launched situation tables in marginalized neighbourhoods; others are considering it. In so doing, all are challenging old myths, organizational cultures, and professional paradigms that make it difficult to prevent negative outcomes.

For example, effective collaboration requires cautiously, judiciously and professionally navigating the trade-offs between information sharing and privacy protection. OWG guidelines will provide principles and practices for achieving this balance. They will also offer a framework for community safety planning that provides a context for situation table interventions, and steers community collaborators into strategies for improving the social determinants of health, thereby reducing the precursors to crime and social disorder.

Each of Ontario’s varied and diverse communities must decide how it wants to further the goals of safety and well-being. But all strategies will require new levels of collaboration, new ways of sharing information, and new attention to the predictive qualities of risk.

To register to receive copies of OWG guidelines, please contact us at safetyplanning@ontario.ca.