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Dec 23 2010

Vancouver does something good

I was poking around the archives from the past few weeks, as I do from time to time, and I realized I haven’t done a “good news” segment in a while. I started hunting for good news segments after it got back to me that a friend of mine thought the blog was too ‘ranty’. While I am inclined to think that anyone who puts their beliefs forward without apology will be accused of “ranting”, but in the interest of maintaining a sense of balance, I throw out stories like this from time to time:

Vancouver’s mayor Gregor Robertson and police chief Jim Chu announced Monday the launch of the Sister Watch program, designed to make the Downtown Eastside safer for women. Chu said police were targeting “predatory and violent drug dealers” who were responsible for attacks against women. ”The levels of violence against women in this community must not be tolerated. We must work together to reduce [them],” he said.

One of the things that politicians like to do is legislate larger punishments for crimes. This is a quick and easy way to gin up votes without having to commit any money up front to solve a problem. The logic behind such legislation is that if punishments are high, it will deter would-be criminals from committing the crimes. The problem is that, despite what the rational agent theory within economics would have you believe, there is a ceiling for such disincentive, beyond which the magnitude of the disincentive is immaterial. If, for example, someone threatened to stab you if you didn’t do something, would it make any difference to you if they said they were going to stab you and then punch you in the face? The addition of the face-punch is not the point – if you’re willing to risk getting stabbed then you’re probably hell-bent on doing the thing anyway.

It is for this reason that I favour programs that actually do something rather than just assuming something will be done by a policy. Those of you regular readers who are not from the Vancouver area may not know much about Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Imagine it like a much whiter (and more Native) version of Compton or Harlem – this is the “rough part of town” in Vancouver. There is a great deal of drug use and abuse that happens in this area, and a lot of associated assault and violent crime. Passing stricter drug laws and proscribing harsher penalties for possession and distribution have not deterred crime in the area. Nor, sadly, has increasing police presence (although there is a caveat here, since increased familiarity and rapport between police and DTES residents has led to greater reporting of crime).

Of course, women in the DTES are particularly vulnerable, as with the regular risk of muggings, assault, and the hodgepodge of random crimes that anyone is at risk of, there’s a whole slate of sexual crimes that women are particularly targeted for. Putting a service like this in place is actually two things – first, it is the recognition of a particular problem affecting a subpopulation of Vancouver residents, and it is a policy targeted at community involvement. This serves the purpose of both protecting women and raising the consciousness of the community at large. This will hopefully result in a sea change in which people are more aware of the issues surrounding violence against women, and will reverberate through the city of Vancouver outside the specific issues related to the DTES.

Hurray.

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