The crime fighter’s revolution — police in Canadian town use trauma-informed approach

crime….but they don’t call it trauma-informed. They call it Community Mobilization.

This is a must-read about a police department in the small Canadian town of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, pop. 35,000, that was dealing with 35,000 calls a year, which was double the number in 2001. The calls were on track to double again in eight years, until the department instituted what they call Community Mobilization, a concept they borrowed from police in Glasgow, Scotland.

Here’s an excerpt from the excellent story by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Randy Turner.

Seated around the table are representatives from every policing and social-services agency in the city: addictions, municipal police and RCMP, mental health, child services, probation, education. The works.

The analyst cites the first “case” — a 13-year-old girl recently reported missing by a guardian and found intoxicated by patrol officers. The girl was returned to her home. She had been truant and recently adopted a “poor attitude.” An investigation revealed the teenager had been a victim of abuse at the hands of a stepfather who had recently moved into the home.

“Are we at acutely elevated risk?” Hunter asks the people at the table. (Asked later for a layman’s version of elevated risk, Hunter replied: “Bad shit is going to happen.”)

They all agree: “Yes.”

So begins the work of the Hub, a cross-section of social-services and enforcement professionals who have been meeting twice a week for just over two years. They have addressed more than 600 “discussions” in an attempt to identify at-risk individuals in their community based on data supplied by agencies or analysts.

It might sound like common sense, but it’s cutting-edge. Historically, agencies such as Child and Family Services, mental health or police operate in silos. Too often, they have no clue about the entire story of at-risk clients. If they want advice or information from another agency, it can literally take weeks or months.

At the boardroom table in Prince Albert, that process takes seconds or minutes. At each meeting, about a dozen pending cases are dealt with, then a half dozen new files are considered. In all cases, the response time, which includes social services and enforcement literally knocking on the person of interest’s door to offer assistance, takes less than 24 hours.

“Historically, that never happened,” Kalinowski said. “In a lot of cases, you investigate a homicide, you get your bad guy, there’s no surprise to see that criminal record a mile long, right? That same bad guy also has a long list with schools and truancy. He dropped out, had addictions issues. Social services was involved. And on and on. Those connections were never made earlier on, but the warning signs were all there.”

In the case of the 13-year-old girl, police officers and social workers intervened by talking to the teenager and mother. The stepfather was subsequently arrested and removed from the home. The young girl started going to school. So did the mother. No further incidents have been reported.

This is the first case of a police department instituting a trauma-informed approach that I’ve heard of. (And if anyone out there knows of others, please let me know!) As I’m typing this, I happen to be in Brockton, MA, on a reporting trip to interview local educators and community members about trauma-informed practices that they’re instituting in Brockton Public Schools.

Here, the police participate in a unique way — they send the schools the addresses that they visit overnight, and the outcome of those visits — an arrest, violence, if someone was taken to the hospital, etc. And the schools check to see if any of their students live at those addresses. If so, a counselor makes sure to visit with that student. And they let the teacher know that the student probably had a very bad night, and so to cut the student some slack if she or he hasn’t turned in their homework, are falling asleep in class or are too agitated to concentrate.

During the week, the police send about eight addresses every morning, says a counselor. On Monday mornings, however, it’s a thick stack.

8 responses

  1. I think this procedure creates a holistic approach to criminal investigations, one which is sorely missed from most police agency procedures. It realizes that in some cases, those we originally perceive as criminals or aggressors, are themselves, actually victims. Approaching law enforcement from this perspective will likely prove to be more effective because it goes to the root cause of illegal activity rather than punishing surface level manifestations of deeper issues.

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  2. Pingback: Models to curb domestic violence emerge from tragic murder in Massachusetts in 2002 • Social Justice Solutions

  3. Pingback: Models to curb domestic violence emerge from a tragic domestic violence fatality in Massachusetts in 2002 « ACEs Too High

  4. This is encouraging to me. There are a couple of things which bother me, though. One is that the 13 year old was originally returned to her home. (Can we really even call that environment a “home”?). Truly informed police officers would immediately realize that if a 13 year old is missing and found intoxicated, then there are very clearly problems in her living environment, so it would not make sense to just take her back there. I suspect they did not ask her how she would feel about going back. In my experience this never, or very nearly never, happens. The feelings of under 18 year olds are regularly left out of all decisions. Perhaps I exaggerate, but I don’t believe it is by much. And I feel very strongly about this because I work in the area of teen suicide prevention, and taking someone back to an abusive home without respecting the teen’s feelings is likely to lead directly to suicide.

    The other thing that bothers me is they put the guy in jail. IE they punished him. This won’t fill any of his needs, as punishment never does. A trauma informed approach would say that he also needs help, not punishment. Obviously the girl needs to be protected from him, but jail is not a very creative solution.

    I have also known children and teens who will lie to protect their parents, or out of fear of the parents. So if they know an adult could go to jail, rather than be helped, or if they are afraid of being hurt themselves for incriminating someone else, they will lie. So we need to create more safety all the way around. Of course the “perpetrator” is also afraid of telling the truth if he/she knows they will be punished.

    So pretty much all the way around, punishment, for anyone, rather than helping them, is not the best option.

    Still this is encouraging and is a step in the right direction. By the way, if anyone is interested, I am working on a “parent test” which should help predict these highly at risk situations. Here is a bit about it…

    http://www.eqi.org/ptest.htm

    Steve Hein

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  5. Hi! We would be really interested in more stories you are collecting. We have a student group interviewing and collecting stories about how people, organizations, and communities are using ACES in their work. How can we get ahold of you? Many thanks for sharing these stories.

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  6. I’m lovin this!! YES WE CAN do such things for OUR benefit. Here’s a way – now seeking the WILL.
    ….
    “Seated around the table ….The works.
    “The analyst cites the first “case” — a 13-year-old girl recently reported missing by a guardian and found intoxicated by patrol officers. The girl was returned to her home. She had been truant and recently adopted a “poor attitude.” An investigation revealed the teenager had been a victim of abuse at the hands of a stepfather who had recently moved into the home.
    ““Are we at acutely elevated risk?” Hunter asks the people at the table. (Asked later for a layman’s version of elevated risk, Hunter replied: “Bad shit is going to happen.”)
    “They all agree: “Yes.”
    “So begins the work of the Hub, …”

    THANKS for posting!

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