Rick Hanson Speaks to MRU Students
Today I had a great opportunity! I was able to attend a lecture given by
Calgary’s chief of Police, Rick Hanson. Hanson has an impressive, to say the least, policing record. Including, 36 years of policing experience. Over half of that time was spent in senior positions, either in the Calgary police service, or in the RCMP. He has been Calgary’s chief of police since 2007 and has given his continued support to programs that help a variety of Calgarians. Hanson has been involved in youth intervention programs- such as the ones I am about to talk about, and has been involved in programs that are close to my own heart, those that help victims of domestic violence, and sexual assault.
The chief gave a guest lecture this afternoon to Mount Royal University students, hosted by the Sociology Student Society, on the role that Calgary’s police service plays in preventing youth crime, and rehabilitating youth that have headed down the wrong path or are heading down the wrong path. He spoke about how youth issues have been front and center for the four years that he has been the chief in Calgary. The police department decided that it was time to examine how to address youth crime issues, and more importantly how to prevent youth crime.
While Rick acknowledged that policing and first response will always be the first job and priority of the Calgary police he also was quick to point out that prevention and treatment is something that can’t be ignored. “We must have a first response team, but there is a whole world of prevention out there” Hanson emphasized. The question then becomes, how do you target these young people who come from all different classes, and circumstances? The answer came out of research, lots of it, that all came to the same conclusion. Get to kids early, elementary school early. “The fact is that when people are victimized they want that person to be caught and punished, but ultimately they would prefer they hadn’t become a victim at all.”
This September the Calgary police service, in conjunction with both school boards, and the education department at Mount Royal University, funded by the province, rolled out a new curriculum in select schools to teach kids (and parents) about where they can go if they get victimized. Teaching them to avoid strangers without terrifying them of the world around them. That sort of thing.
While educating kids through a curriculum is the most recent addition in their youth prevention tactics it is not the only program they have going. Hanson says that 2 years ago they began speaking with teachers and social workers. Through their conversations with teachers, social workers, and other youth workers the MASST, Multi Agency School Support Team, was born. The MASS team consists of a police officer and a social worker who, through the help of the school, identify youth that are exhibiting anti social behaviour, offending behaivour, or have signs of victimization.
“Look, we know that 5% of young offenders commit 80% of youth crime. Why wouldn’t we target these kids and invest in them and this type of prevention?” Hanson told students. As an example he sites an 11 year old boy who started skipping school in grade 4. By the time this young boy reached grade 6 he had missed one full year of school. When the MASS team showed up at the house the boy was home, with his 9 year old younger brother, and their mother was still asleep. Upon investigation it was discovered the mother had chronic depression and once she received help and got a better handle on things at home the young boy not only started to attend school, he ended that year on the honour roll (his younger brother paralleled his success).
Another initiative that caught my attention is the plans for a ‘Child Advocacy Center.’ The center is set to open across from the Alberta Children’s hospital, near the Ronald McDonald house. This facility will house everything needed to respond to child victimization in one building . The police, Crown, Alberta health services, and Alberta Youth services all in one building reducing the chance of repeat victimization that children could face by being dragged from one place to another. As it stands today when a child is victimized often their parents have to take them to see all these people which results in dragging their children back and forth across the city, and ultimately having them tell their story multiple times. The idea behind this facility is to put an end to that, and have one central location where a child and their parents can receive help.
Hanson is also a supporter of the safe jail initiative. “I am a firm believer that we don’t need more prisons, we need more health beds.” Currently it is estimated that 50% of people in jails are suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness, though some would estimate that it is even higher then this. The problem is you can’t diagnose someone who is addicted to drugs. The answer, he argues, is a safe jail. A jail that is run as if it were a secured detox center. Once someone goes through detox, and gets that diagnosis you have an increased chance of getting them the help they need and curbing their part in the revolving door that jails appear to be. He argues that no one wakes up one morning and says to themselves “hmmm, I think I am going to try crystal meth today”. Instead, Hanson argues that addictions are created to trap people and if you get someone off that addiction they stand a chance.
The presentation today was both informative and eye opening. I was surprised, and thrilled, to learn just how many preventative programs are run by the Calgary police service. I will admit that often I get frustrated when I hear certain types of stories in the media and often think to myself “cops, they think they can just arrest themselves out of anything don’t they?” But today’s presentation opened my eyes to an entire world of policing that I hadn’t given much thought to in the past but has obviously impacted my own communities in positive ways ensuring that some crimes will never happen. And ultimately answering my question. No, police officers don’t necessarily think they can just ‘arrest their way out of any problem’ and that ‘locking people up and throwing away the key’ isn’t a stance that all law enforcement officials have.
To learn more about these programs and others visit the CPS website and click on “youth services.”