Crime: Targeting the few "bad apples"

The police division in which Riverdale and the Beach lies has the second highest Break & Enter rate in the City. Only the downtown core/entertainment area outranked Division 55 during this period (January  – October 2008). (See Toronto Police Service data and the Toronto Star crime maps for the source of this analysis. Another interesting website, allowing individuals to pool their collective knowledge is the Spotcrime website.)

So these high stats make one of the stories buried in the 2005 annual police report all the more interesting.

The Division’s Major Crime Unit developed a program to track serial offenders, out on bail for Break and Enter and other major crimes.

Through the program, police met with offenders and their sureties as they were released from jail and then tracked their bail conditions, making regular follow-up visits weekly.

A regular, rotating list of the Top 15 offenders was maintained. Police found, by tracking these few people, they were able to drop the break-in rate by 38%.

The pattern is reminiscent of the one described by Malcolm Gladwell when he wrote in the New Yorker about Million Dollar Murray, a homeless man who in the final years of his life absorbed a large portion of health, social and police services. Gladwell makes the compelling argument that the most effective use resources is not when they are spread across a population, but when they concentrated on the most needy.

It’s a focused tactic that runs counter-intuitively to our Canadian sense of fairness and universalism; however it’s one now seen in the Province of Ontario’s  poverty reduction strategies, the City of Toronto‘s and United Way‘s Strong Neighbourhood Strategies, and TDSB’s Model Schools for Inner Cities. Each of these strategies brings additional resources to those identified as most in need.

At worst, this tactic prioritizes the vulnerable. As best, it just may work.

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