Community safety is about much more than just crime

Researcher Trevor Hancock published an article in concerning a study on the safety of communities, in which he considers that this safety often focuses on the issue of crime or violence, but for him safety is much more than that.

However, he also believes that there is a very different understanding of safety in Europe compared to North America.

In Europe, the Safe Communities movement was largely centred around preventing accidents, what in public safety we call ‘unintentional injuries’. But in North America the focus of the work on safe communities has been primarily on crime and violence prevention, part of what we call ‘intentional injuries’.

From a public safety perspective, unintentional injuries are by far the biggest problem. A report by the Injury Prevention Committee notes that injuries are the leading cause of death for people between 1 and 44 years of age and the fourth leading cause of death for all ages.

Hancock identifies three priorities for injury prevention: elderly falls, transportation-related injuries, and suicide and self-injury. However, even within the assault category, the priority should not be random violence perpetrated against strangers, but family violence and sexual violence.

A 2021 Statistics Canada report noted that one-quarter of victims of police-reported violence are victimized by a family member, while two-thirds of all victims of family violence are women and girls.

In addition, such violence, as well as sexual violence, is very scarcely reported. 80% of spousal violence was not reported to police. Aside from that, community safety is not just about violence, or even crime in general, but about feeling safe.

For example, assault – particularly random violence – is considered far more frightening (and more newsworthy) than the far more numerous cases of falls and traffic accidents, which too often seem to be accepted as part of the fabric of everyday life or the price we pay for mobility.

This tells us that perception and emotion are important when it comes to security, not just data.

People may feel unsafe for all sorts of reasons, often having little to do with criminal activity or police powers.

Indigenous people, people of colour, LGBTQ people and others may feel unsafe because of discriminatory attitudes, comments or behaviours that are not criminal. And, of course, dark streets and parks make many of us feel unsafe, while people are worried and perhaps frightened by those acting strangely or living on the street.

So, if we really want a safer community, we need to have quite a broad perspective on what makes our community unsafe for people, and not get sucked into an understanding of safety that is too narrowly defined as a matter of crime, violence, and law and order.


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