By Andrew Schopp
Experts in criminology, policing, social services and gang prevention held a panel discussion on Thursday at Humber’s Lakeshore campus, debating a crime-prevention technique employed on the streets of Chicago’s south side.
Humber’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences hosted a screening of The Interrupters, a documentary following three “violence interrupters” – ex-gang members who act as mediators on the streets – stepping in after violent attacks to prevent retaliations.
“We build relationships on an everyday basis to try and meet people where they are at without being judgmental,” said Kobe Williams, one of three “interrupters” featured in the film, via Skype, in a discussion panel following the screening.
“We’re not going around telling people they shouldn’t sell drugs, they shouldn’t be in the game. We meet people we’re they are at, and build that relationship and keep building and building,” said Williams.
“Be patient with people and don’t be judgmental, because when you are judgmental you cannot reach them,” he said.
The panel debated whether such an initiative would work in Toronto.
“The thoughts that I had as I was watching the film was that it could be a film in Toronto,” said John Sawdon, executive director at Canadian Training Institute, a non-profit organization that trains police and other first responders in crisis prevention.
Sawdon said he supports this type of initiative in Toronto, but the city should take multiple approaches towards preventing gang violence in order to break the vicious cycle of crime.
“Many people don’t join gangs overnight,” he said. “We are dealing with issues of poverty, neglect, social housing, people being excluded and ostracized, dysfunctional families where there are patterns of people engaging in crime and moving into self-destructive behavior.”
This past summer, Toronto Police initiated Project Summer Safety, an initiative enhancing police presence in areas identified as “high risk.”
“Any concept that is used to reduce violent crime in our community is good, and I encourage it,” said Staff Insp. Mark Saunders, Toronto’s former head of homicide.
“We are looking at the root cause of what causes that behavior. Is it mental health? Is it substance abuse? Is it poverty? You’ve got to bring the right tools to the table in order to be successful. When you do that you look at the primary community input for that specific problem,” he said.