In 2012, Winnipeg Police Service began measuring Violent Crime in Winnipeg and from January to December were able to observe a 3% decrease in City wide violent crime. They also measured the Livesafe area, a 21 block area that includes the Bell Tower, many non profit organizations and the recently closed down Merchant’s Hotel among the Dufferin/William Whyte neighbourhood; it is within this area we saw an even larger decrease in violent crime (according to WPS). This observation and reason for celebration is one of the benefits of documenting statistics over time so you can measure progress. Kudos to the WPS for taking the time to share this measurement tool with the community/media so we can see that progress as well. The collection of these statistics allow us to measure what matters. Less crime. Less victims. While I find this conclusion positive, I do take issue with the main item being measured – violence. I know its necessary, but its not this one police survey alone that I take issue with. At the same time, newspaper/TV/media outlets have headlines that are sensationalist, glorifying violent incidents and negative attitudes in text and in tone daily. Also inherent within the educational and child welfare system are indicators that focus on the number of children apprehended, the number of delinquent behaviours and all sorts of behaviours that stunt our children’s growth. All of these reveal a habit in our society to measure what is bad, what isn’t working, what we dislike. And then we define success as the absence of that negative trait. Is the way we report news and the way we document ‘success’ within institutions contributing to perpetuating violence? If all we ever focus on is violence or problems, we will only recognize the absence of the problem as opposed to the presence of the solution.
The real problem with how we measure our successes is the habit of trying to solve a problem by obsessing over the problem. It is a deficit based approach that creates cycles of negative thinking – its what happens when we are measuring the problem; talking about how much more/less we see of the problem; the severity of the problem. Can you see why this over emphasis on the problem likely leads to an increase in problem incidents in the people we are trying to help? I am happy that they measure the challenges – they allow us to draw conclusions to guide decisions. I have recently heard about infant/life mortality measurements learning that someone born in Point Douglas versus someone born in Tuxedo can expect to live 18 year less – this is a problem. I have recently heard about CFS measurement systems that allocate resources and dollars based on the amount of kids that are currently in the government’s care – this sounds like a problem. I have heard of the police measuring the number of violent incidents and celebrating when we measure less violent incidents – a good conclusion but the focus on the violence is a problem. Also look to the media thought process of ‘if it bleeds it leads’ that only seems to respond to negativity and violence – a definite problem. Its a bad habit to give such little weight or emphasis to crime prevention or community building initiatives, that educate, build hope and improve safety – preventing all of those negative statistics/news stories from occurring in the first place. In an environment where these statistics are part of a child’s identity growing up, it often helps to create a self fulfilling prophecy for youth involved in CFS, or growing up in poverty to become involved in criminal activity eventually becoming one of those negative statistics.
I am grateful that I have seen many improvements within the various local media in the last years. Many of the groups I work with have developed healthy relationships with mainstream and alternative news groups that really do attempt to paint a balanced picture giving weight to the positive activities that take place in our community as well as acknowledging the challenges. It is in this spirit that we meet every Friday on Selkirk Avenue, and this is the spirit that underpins so many of the educational, leadership oriented and peace building initiatives that myself and AYO have committed ourselves to. Taking a balanced approach works well, our actions are the the positive contributions, while acknowledging that those very efforts are in response to negativity on our streets. We try to create space within our initiatives for the all aspects of our community to get involved, even the business community (have you need the new Golden Bell Tower Top?? Thanks Selkirk Ave BIZ). We let residents, youth and other groups participate in our community events and decision making processes as much as we can. This creates balance by allowing everyone to feel generous and contribute in a meaningful way to improving the well being of their community. This is the movement. It is how the Bell Tower has lasted for 2 years and AYO for 3 and a half with simply volunteers and in kind contributions. It is also how countless other community initiatives have found their way off the ground in recent months and years.
The North End Would Look Different
Because of the current deficit based strategy of measuring things, we can easily paint a picture of the North End as a violence place where many of our children are in care and have life expectancy rates that are significantly less than the rest of the city due to poverty and other social determinants of health including lack of access to adequate health care and increased interactions with the child welfare system. But what would happen if we measured solutions? Or every time we got together to build community? That would be at least 101 incidents form the Bell Tower alone in just the last two years. What about the number of community initiatives that have started in the last year? The North End Opportunity Network? Got Bannock?? North End Rising? Where is the measurement for the closing of the Merchant’s hotel and how many violent incidents have been averted since its closing? Its not that people are getting together less because they can’t drink at the Merch, it appears that there is space for us to create opportunities to come together. I think of Picnic in the Park, the many community AGMS, the kitchen table meetings, the random acts of kindness, the public sharing of culture and education, medicine walks, rallies, the incidents of generosity and those regular parts of every day life in the North End. Even in private life, I think of how many times a group of individuals have gathered together peacefully, talked and acted to make our community a better place. If you, the world, could see what I saw, the North End would look very different to you. Because I look around and I see laughter, resiliency, innovation and loyalty. Granted, these are all qualities that can and do thrive in a criminal environment that itself is a form of resistance to the main stream oppression that is consistent across the institutions that many of us are born entrenched inside of. However, these are all also skills and attributes that the rest of the world desperately needs applied to the way it looks and feels about one another. These are also the skills that can help to build a community, enabling its residents, businesses & young people to lead the way to positive change.
How will we know about the solution unless we start measuring and talking about that solution. What if we share examples of when we see the solution? Imagine if we talk about the community celebrations we have that build corridors of safety between public places and our homes. Imagine if we measured how many times violence was prevented or anti-bully tactics were deployed on the street corner to avoid violence by children. The solution to our challenge is to start measuring the solutions we see around us, their frequency and document the times they create the community and world we want to see today and for our children tomorrow. The crappy thing about statistics is that they can be manipulated to suit our purposes; and I say this as someone who benefits on occasion from positive spin of statistics released. We can talk about their being technically less violent incidents, yes please; but shouldn’t we be also be rewarding places where potentially violent incidents are prevented entirely? Does such a measurement tool exist? What about in the case of CFS, currently allocating dollars based on # of kids in care; what if they began rewarding agencies that reunited children with their families? Where is the measurement statistics for families reunited? Within these statistics we can even find practical and intrinsic incentives to encourage positive behaviours, such as families reunited. Measuring solutions re-frames our thoughts, preparing us for a positive outcome.
Strength Based Success
In our community we are fortunate to have playful, easy-going and resilient people. They are loyal and caring, generous and creative with a strong sense of community. When faced with an opportunity to do good, share their gift and help – most times they will do so. The young person who walks around picking up garbage for no reason every night outside of the drop in doesn’t make the news. Neither do the elders who organize an opportunity to sit and meet with our young people and laugh/eat together. It would also be great to see statistics around how many of our families successfully overcome their battles in the CFS/Justice systems – which would reveal how determined and committed to our children and the truth we are in our community. What about the iconic North End businesses like Gunn’s Bakery? These are our strengths, and these are the solutions that will move our community forward. Yes, we will acknowledge our challenges; but we are gonna celebrate our successes and victories in typical rowdy North End style. How many times has our community come together to publicly celebrate their gifts, build positive relationships with one another and talk about actions they can take to make things better? Let’s start to measure that.