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Op-Ed: Situation tables can reduce crime and improve community safety

Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson says new provincial tool can break cycles of crime and disorder
Nanaimo RCMP vehicles at the corner of Nicol Street and Esplanade. (News Bulletin file photo)


Crime and social disorder is top of mind for many in Nanaimo and is the issue I hear most about as an MLA. This week I proposed a new, provincially funded tool for Nanaimo that could improve community safety and better connect vulnerable people to the services that can prevent crisis, crime and disorder.

Situation tables problem-solve, one case at a time, so at-risk individuals don’t fall between the cracks. Together police, provincial agencies and front-line workers plan how to get the person the help they need, so problems don’t spill over into neighbourhoods.

COVID-19 has impacted everyone, but for those already vulnerable, their situations have become even more dire. Homelessness and the fallout of addictions and mental illness is hard on everyone; those living with it, neighbours living next to it, first responders and front-line workers. When incidents occur, it is most often the police that are called. And while well-trained in many areas, police departments are not best-suited to respond to many of the situations they are called to.

If this model proceeds, police would refer a case to the situation table, have all the relevant agencies co-ordinate a response, and get the person the help they need to break the cycle of disorder. In the 10 B.C. communities already using this tool, police are the main source of referrals, and the top factors were mental health, drug use, unmet basic needs and housing. In 2019, 54 per cent of situation table cases were subsequently transferred from police to more suitable agencies, which both gets to the root of social disorder and conserves police resources for violent crime.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo will look into ‘situation tables’ to address social disorder

As discussions around the globe proliferate about different forms of policing, situation tables emerge as a new model for community safety in British Columbia. Our government is modernizing the 45-year-old Police Act to address racism and mental health, but we can take concrete steps now while the committee completes its work. This approach has the potential to tackle crime at the root of the problem.

Following my presentation, Nanaimo city council unanimously voted to arrange a meeting with an eye to establishing a situation table in our community, which could make it the first on Vancouver Island. This tool could have a profound impact on those in need, and stop some crime and social disorder at its source. I’m confident that by working together we can find solutions to the problems and challenges our community faces.

Sheila Malcolmson is MLA for Nanaimo.