Tracing the roots of crime

Justin Smirlies

The Waterloo Region Crime Preven- tion Council (WRCPC) took a different approach last November with their release of “A Snapshot in Time: The Root Cause of Crime in Waterloo.” Instead of taking a reactive look at crime preven- tion, the council decided to do a study on the origins of crimes and how they can be mitigated.

Spearheaded by Anthony Piscitelli, the supervisor of planning and research at WRCPC, the report — which was accom- panied by an easy to follow infographic — looked at many of the root causes of crime such as social competency in children, community trust, homeless rates and the overall fear of crime.

“The hope was to put together a report that served a couple of functions,” explained Piscitelli. “One of the functions was for planning purposes.”

“If we have a long-term goal of reducing crime victimization and fear of crime, what we need to do is understand what’s driving those problems,” he added. “We would like to get people to start thinking about the root causes of crime and not just crime itself.”

According to the report, 66 per cent of the people in Waterloo Region have trust in their neighbours. Piscitelli noted that this figure — which is also been labeled as “social capital” — was one of the key findings in report and was “significantly higher than Canada or Ontario” averages.

“What this is indicates that we live in a community where people are more trust- ing in one another,” he said.
As a result, 12 per cent of people in the region say they feel unsafe walking alone after dusk. Piscitelli explained that the rea- son WRCPC compiled these statistics into the report was because socio-economic factors shouldn’t be the sole reasons of gauging the level of crime in a neighbourhood.

According to Piscitelli, Chicago did a similar study and found that some neighbourhoods with the stats that would suggest their neighbourhood would be dangerous but didn’t have high crime rates was because of a high social capital.

“What they also found was that social capital serves as a very protective factor,” said Piscitelli about that particular report.

The aspect of the report that showed Waterloo Region below the provincial average was the level of social competency in children. 9.3 per cent of children in Ontario have low social competency whereas the figure is 10.5 per cent in Waterloo Region.

“If a child with higher risk is in kindergarten right now, now’s the time to intervene,” Piscitelli said, adding that some of the things that they will be addressing in the future is the prevalence of cyber-bullying at schools.

Christiane Sadeler, the council’s execu- tive director, said that the report received positive feedback from the public and the agencies they work with. With this information, the council will then work with various community agencies, groups and the cities and townships to suggest measures and practices.

“I think it affirmed for them a number of things. One is that we understand crime prevention in a very similar way, we see it as one ecological model,” she said of the report.

The one thing that Piscitelli felt the report was missing, however, was the influence of drugs and alcohol on crime, something he said is extremely difficult to measure. He hopes to include such information in future reports. “There’s no easy way to get that informa- tion,” he added.

Sadeler commented on the use of alcohol and drugs as one of the things they are working on researching in the future — primarily overdoses.

“Overdose is the third-leading cause of death in Ontario, [and] it’s a lesser known risk unfortunately. So we’re trying to bring some public awareness to that and train the appropriate people to deal with that,” Sadeler explained.

The council will continue to work on similar reports in the future not just to find preventative measures, but also to create a different culture of thinking when it comes to crime. When asked what was the largest obstacle for the WRCPC, Sadeler said that it was representation of crime in the media, politics and wider public.