Ottawa is in a municipal election campaign where citizens want more safety. This is not surprising after many years of growing police budgets without significant reductions in shootings or violent victimization.
The evidence is clear that the most effective and affordable way to reduce violence is to stop it before it happens. This means that the next mayor and city council must adopt and implement a plan to reduce violence significantly by using research and lessons from success elsewhere, ultimately reducing the need for costly emergency services.
While some voters believe that more police equals less violence, facts do not support this view. Indeed, if more police and prisons made cities safer, US cities would be the safest in the world, which they are not.
In 2019, the Ontario Police Services Act was changed to require Ottawa and every municipality in Ontario to develop a community safety plan. The Act requires cities to identify and act on factors contributing to “crime, victimization, addiction, drug overdose and suicide.” But Ottawa’s plan omits any focus on street violence or the upstream prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.
Further, Ottawa’s plan does not benefit from the good news that violence can be reduced significantly and affordably. This is based on evidence from random control trials, task forces and national commissions. The evidence is widely available from agencies such as the US Department of Justice and the World Health Organization but has not yet been used in Ottawa.
Ottawa should be investing in actions proven to stop violence before it happens. These include:
• hiring and training social workers and mentors to reach out to young men before they engage in violence;
• recruiting case workers to join surgeons in hospital emergency rooms to ensure that victims of violence do not come back;
• helping young men with problem-solving skills and emotional regulation to control the anger and toxic masculinity that too often leads to injuries to others;
• providing opportunities for job training and jobs in areas where the violence originates.
One in seven women who graduate from a post-secondary school do so with the traumatic experience of being a victim of sexual violence. These tragic incidents impact their lives and safety in many ways. Schools and cities can do more to stop this sexual violence by following evidence-based recommendations. For instance, Our Campus, Our Safety requires successful participation in workshops proven to shift social norms about consent and allow people to take action as bystanders.
Putting the solutions into practice requires new leadership and skills. Unfortunately, Ontario did little more than produce a booklet to help cities plan. Fortunately, international guidelines show how to tailor investments locally and cities such as Glasgow, Scotland, showed us the way by reducing violence by 50 per cent over just a few years. The top of the list for the City of Ottawa must be to hire officials who are knowledgeable already and train others on smart planning and how to use the prevention science.
Our estimates are that Ottawa will need $15 million a year to get on the road to reducing violence by 50 per cent. Ontario has not yet stepped up to the plate. The federal government may help, but only with pilot funding, which results in projects disappearing in a few years just as the caseworkers are reaching their full potential. So, Ottawa’s politicians will need to work with cities such as Toronto, already committed to prevention, to get changes from the federal and provincial governments.
More of the same for Ottawa will only get more costly emergency responses. Getting smart on crime will reduce the number of victims and sensational headlines and make Ottawa a peaceful place to live, study and succeed.
Jeffrey Bradley is a PhD candidate in Legal Studies at Carleton University. dr. Irvin Waller is Professor Emeritus at the University of Ottawa and author of Science and Secrets of Ending Violent Crime.