THUNDER BAY – The article on crime by Kyle Pereira discusses a topic that is long overdue. He accurately portrays the challenges facing Thunder Bay and refutes the suggestion that crime is not a problem.
I have long wondered how our community can provide an environment for economic growth and prosperity when crime and its negative impact continue to be ignored. Why would a tourist ever return to Thunder Bay after having experienced intoxicated persons, needles, beggars or if they have been a victim of crime? This does not offer an attractive view of our city and it is one of the problems we face as we try to build a new economy.
In the fall of 2009 I made several public statements concerning crime and our community’s response to dealing with these challenges. My statements were met with denial. It was even suggested that I was using outdated data but it seems clear some simply want to ignore reality.
Many do not appreciate the role a Mayor can play in providing strong leadership for a safe community. As I have traveled around the city for the past five months, taxes are the number one topic of conversation with concerned voters. However the second most important topic on people’s minds is the crime rate. Individual safety and dealing with the unacceptable levels of crime is important to those that live here. Many believe crime has been neglected for far too long. What most do not realize, is that it did not have to be this way.
For almost twenty five years I was part of the Police Association Executive and often we would raise safety concerns that were almost always ignored by those in leadership roles. We usually walked away with the impression that if the idea was not generated by senior management, it had little merit. History repeated itself last fall when several recommendations to improve public safety were given little consideration.
We have recently seen statements by those in leadership roles that suggest we need a new detoxification unit that will help us meet the needs of those who are dealing with these afflictions. It is ironic that some of these statements are being made by those who initially denied a problem even existed. They are also portraying these ideas as something new. Nothing could be more inaccurate.
In 1997 at a contract arbitration with the Thunder Bay Police Services Board our Association identified a number of serious challenges facing our community. The level of alcohol and drug consumption had Thunder Bay ranked higher than every other major city in Ontario. Our level of drug and alcohol related mental illness also indicated that steps needed to be taken immediately in order to deal with these challenges. Unfortunately nothing was done to bring these issues to the forefront for discussion and action and many sat quietly by as these problems were allowed to grow. In essence, we lost over a decade to inaction.
In 2004 I was the Vice-President of the Police Association as we publicly commented on the unacceptable level of violence in our community and the lack of officers on the road, statements very similar to those I made in 2009. Our Association was accused of misleading the public and the public was told that crime was not a problem in our community. Mr. Pereira’s article clearly shows how inaccurate those denials are by our community leaders and we have to ask why these problems were allowed to spiral to unnecessary and often dangerous levels. Why was no leadership provided on these issues?
It is incumbent upon members of any governing board to do more than rubber stamp the wishes of administration. Our community would expect members of City Council to probe, debate and challenge assertions by City Staff to ensure that the good of the community is being met. I would suggest that the current struggles over the proposed wind farm are an example of what happens when questions are not asked, and homework is not done.
When it comes to crime and the safety of our community, the inaction of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board has only allowed our challenges to grow. The Mayor is an automatic member of this Board. The Mayor has the opportunity to review, question and to take action when necessary. There is no benefit to sitting quietly by when the policy of inaction by our police service is allowed to continue. Leadership can rally a community to a common objective. I would suggest taking action on crime would seem to be one of many priorities that our community needs to address if we want to build a solid future of success.
For over a decade our city and police leaders have ignored the very real evidence that has been presented before them and as a result, we see the continued high ranking of Thunder Bay in crime categories that we should never want to lead. Will you go shop in an area of town knowing it has a crime problem? And if we continue to ignore these well known areas of our city where businesses must fight to attract customers, won’t this only lead to a diminishing tax base and an increase in residential rates that are already too high.
The time for pretending these challenges do not exist and hoping they will go away, has long past. We must begin to address these issues and to meet the safety needs of our residents. The vast majority of our city knows that crime is a problem and it begs the question: why do those in the position to effect change continue to deny these issues. We have the resources to deal effectively with the crime problem in our city. More money is not the answer, but better use of our resources is.
What will our community look like in four years? Will we simply accept four more years of the same inaction and hope things change. Or will we choose to chart a new path where for the first time in decades we will see concrete, measurable reductions in crime, where people once again feel safe. We have all seen what inaction can do. It is time for a new way and a better future.
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