By Kim Mackrael
Crime Prevention Ottawa is still reeling after a committee voted to cut the program from the city budget last Friday. The announcement came two days after another committee approved the organization’s three-year strategic plan.
The organization was one of many affected by the audit, budget and finance committee decision to cut millions of dollars from Ottawa’s 2010 budget in an effort to keep property tax increases below four per cent.
Executive director Nancy Worsfold said she was shocked to hear that all of her organization’s $510,000 in funding would be eliminated.
“Honestly, my strategic plan got passed on Wednesday. I was so happy about it. Now…” Worsfold paused. “It’s not for me to speculate on what people may have been thinking.”
Ottawa Police Chief Vernon White sits on the organization’s board of directors. Reached by phone from Sydney, Australia, he wouldn’t speculate either. But he did suggest that the organization’s deliberately low profile likely means few councillors know about its work.
For example, White said Crime Prevention Ottawa played a significant role in the Vanier’s award-winning Taking Back the Streets program.
“CPO had a strong part in that but they really looked for no credit and received no credit for it,” White said.
Some of the organization’s work has sparked controversy among local activists.
Tara Lyons, of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, said she was surprised to see how much money goes into Crime Prevention Ottawa when the proposed cuts were reported in the news this week.
Lyons said she was concerned that some of the CPO’s work can stigmatize Ottawa’s poor rather than building a community strategy for crime prevention.
“In their work with community associations they are very explicit about encouraging people to call the police if they see someone who looks like they could be a sex worker on the street,” Lyons said.
“We want safe communities, but we don’t think that criminalizing certain people is the best way to go about it.”
Still, many of the organization’s efforts have drawn praise from community members and associations.
Cheryl Parrott of the Hintonburg Community Association said her neighbourhood has benefitted considerably from the organization.
“Before Crime Prevention Ottawa, we made connections with other neighbourhood groups by reading someone’s name in the newspaper and looking them up in the phone book,” Parrott said.
“CPO has given us more opportunities to learn from other community associations about what works and doesn’t before trying it ourselves.”
White said the loss of the program could have a significant impact on Ottawa neighbourhoods.
“It’s disappointing because in this day and age crime prevention and crime reduction should be our primary focus in any city,” White said.
“At the end of the day, I understand that the city has priorities to set but I’m not convinced this is an area they should be cutting.”