Police, Courts and Corrections

Studies show that simply putting more police on the streets or more people into jail is not the most effective crime prevention measure.1 In the 1990s, Canada reduced its police force by 11%, while the United States increased its force by the same amount – yet crime declined equally in both countries.2

Studies in the United States showed that achieving a 10% reduction in crime through longer prison sentences costs about seven times more than an equivalent reduction in crime obtained by helping youth complete school.3 In Canada, the cost of correctional treatment for adult offenders is more than $2.5 billion annually.4

Police, courts and corrections have important roles to play – but they can be used more effectively to prevent crime.

Traditionally, police services focus on city-wide patrols, responding to calls, investigations and arrests. The courts focus on determining guilt and sentencing. Correctional services oversee offenders during their sentences – and may or may not attempt to rehabilitate the offenders.

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But reviews of police work in England and the United States suggest that common police practices such as random patrols and increasing the number of youth arrests have no positive impact on levels of crime.5 Police are most effective when they work in partnership with agencies such as school boards, social services, and other municipal leaders.6

These results were borne out by a Canadian experiment. In the early 1990s, the Edmonton Police Service [www.police.edmonton.ab.ca] strategically identified crime "hot spots" and worked with at-risk communities to develop and implement local sustainable solutions. Over a four-year period, there was a 41% drop in overall crime in Edmonton and a 31% drop in violent crime – greater reductions than in any other Canadian city during that time.7

Such impressive results require more than simply informal contacts with the community. Research shows that for "community policing" to succeed, the police must engage in substantive and strategic problem-solving with their communities.8

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) has strongly endorsed this proactive approach. They believe that "community safety and well-being require both innovative and proactive social development approaches and conventional methods of crime control." The CACP further recognizes that the most efficient and cost-effective way of ensuring community safety is to work with other groups and agencies that are able to influence the underlying causes of crime.9

Cape Breton Regional Police Service Chief Edgar MacLeod, President of the CACP, has taken a strong stand on this issue. He calls on police to "learn a new type of leadership, as hero-makers rather than heroes themselves" (see "Start them off right!" in Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin No. 7, Fall 2003).

Like the CACP, the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Crime call for a balance between proactively preventing crime, and enforcing laws and sanctions once a crime is committed.

The Links section of this website provides key documents related to preventive policing, including a compilation by the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime of 40 examples of police practices that have used preventive strategies to significantly reduce crime in their communities.