It's good to see Mayor Shari Green stepping up with her Mayor's Task Force on Crime.
This is the kind of big-picture work the mayor should be doing more of, focusing on initiatives that will bring improvements to the overall community, rather than getting mired in the day-to-day administration of city staff. That's what the city manager's job is and Kathleen Soltis is doing that job on an interim basis, until a new city manager is named.
There's no shortage of work to be done by the task force, which will be made up of the mayor, three city councillors and other residents to be named later. Fortunately, reinventing the wheel won't be part of that work. There are numerous crime reduction plans available with demonstrated success so there's no need to put together a "made-in-Prince-George" proposal from scratch.
The chore for the task force will be to pick the right crime reduction plan from the choices available and then tweak it appropriately to fit local conditions.
The first thing the mayor should do is temper expectations on what her group can do to reduce crime.
As the mayor of Thunder Bay, the city with perhaps the most in common to Prince George in all of Canada (size, amenities, geographic isolation, aboriginal population, resource-based economy, etc.), found out, crime doesn't go away just because elected leaders want it to. Thunder Bay's mayor, a former police officer, was elected on a platform of reducing crime. Two years into his mandate, Keith Hobbs had to apologize recently to his city's residents for failing to deliver results on the crime front.
Even when a mayor has a background in law enforcement, improving a city's crime rate isn't easy.
As the Maclean's survey showed, Prince George's crime rate has reduced over the last few years. The reason Prince George remains number one on the magazine's annual survey of the top 100 cities in Canada is because most of the other 99 cities are also seeing reductions in crime. What Green's task force is really after is to reduce crime in Prince George faster than in other Canadian cities, so Prince George can fall out of that dreaded top spot it has owned for the last three years.
Prince George, like Thunder Bay, faces unique crime problems that can't likely be solved by off-the-shelf solutions that have brought results in big cities. A small urban centre simply doesn't have the resources - financial, manpower and services - to combat the depths of crime.
Meanwhile, the drug trade operates like any other business, meaning that the benefits of being a transportation and shipping hub for legitimate business also make Prince George an excellent location to centralize regional drug (and other organized criminal) operations.
If there's any lesson to be learned from the past that would work here, it's target the money and the people will take care of themselves. From Al Capone to Osama bin Laden on down, whether your business is crime or terrorism, nothing happens without cash. Stop or slow the flow of cash and the amount of activity dependent on that cash falls accordingly.
Lots of people argue for more police officers but they need to be specific about what kind of police officers. The ones patrolling problem areas in the community are important but the white collar cops, with backgrounds in forensic accounting and money laundering, are also critical. Targeting the transactions, the bank accounts, the businesses and the proceeds of crime hits criminals the same place the rest of us hate being hurt - the wallet.
The promise of tougher jail sentences isn't much of a deterrent because first you have to be caught and then you have to be convicted.
Take away the prospect of crime actually paying, however, and the biggest part of the incentive for criminals to be criminals disappears.