Dealing with crime
It's a common urban problem across the continent

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 12/97) - Dealing with crime in the downtown core is a common urban problem across the continent.

Other police forces are trying new methods or revisiting old ones but most are limited by shrinking resources.

"There's a real problem in Hamilton's downtown area with a lot more vagrancy and a lot more youth," says Const. Claus Wagner of the Hamilton-Wentworth Regional police in Ontario,

"Gothics -- young people who wear white pancake makeup and white lipstick -- it's a whole craze -- are panhandling in the downtown, but there's no (effective) laws," he says.

"The New York police started a program called Broken Glass. It's a foot patrol with zero tolerance for drunks. They're taken off the street. And it took away the crime that went with it," he adds.

"We're looking at new bylaws ... we hope the city will have a panhandling law," Wagner says.

Hamilton's downtown foot-patrol officers carry booklets that include phone numbers to pass on to loiterers. If the police see the youth a second time they ask if they used the phone numbers.

"They tell you, 'I'm having a baby,' we go, 'here, phone this number,' or 'I need a job,' 'here phone this number.' We'll help you, but if you don't want that help, we'll charge you."

In nearby Ancaster, which has a population of 22,000, The problem there is youth at two strip malls. They put up "no loitering" signs but then skateboarders basically took over the outside sitting area and the businesses want the police to do something about it.

While there's no foot patrols in Ancaster, there are beats. "We've gone back to community-based policing," Wagner explains. Police do "park and walks" at the strip malls -- if they have time.

Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask., has different demographics than Hamilton. There are 2,000 people in the town itself and another 1,000 to 2,000 cottages and campsites in use during the summer.

Nearby is the Standing Buffalo Reserve, which has about 350 residents and one aboriginal constable.

Staff Sgt. Harold Baydak, who has worked in Fort Resolution, Inuvik and Fort Smith, says his officers conduct foot patrols whenever they have the time.

Being a small town, there's only one officer in the downtown core. "We try to do bike patrols through back alleys. That's been very effective in evenings. With silent patrols, you can come up to people and it's more friendly," Baydak says.

The foot patrols deter shoplifters and improve community relations, he adds. "During the day, I'd say foot patrols are more effective in the downtown."

Staff Sgt. Hal Zorn of the Regina police says there have always been foot patrols in his city but they've been downsized.

"From '72 on, the patrol cars took most away. We maintained foot patrols in the downtown business area, and we have the flexibility of using a bike. The whole idea of community policing has begged the question: why not?" asks Zorn.

In Regina all the helping agencies are clustered under one roof in each neighborhood. The agencies include the police, probation, social services, the city's bylaw enforcement and many volunteers from the community.

"So officers are assigned to that service centre. We're going back to where we were in the '50s and '60s, and we're having a significant effect on the crime rate," he explains, says Zorn.

Zorn says foot patrols are more effective than cars, but it's been a slow transition. "If you asked a kid to draw the police, he'd draw a head and the rest would be an officer sitting in a car."