Artwork: "I’m In Smith St" by Anne Warren
Collaborating to prevent crime
In parallel with court case work, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre addresses the broad-scale issues that stem from, or lead to, crime and social disruption.
This work is carried about by Crime Prevention & Community Justice (CPt) in the jurisdiction's 'high impact locations', predominately areas within suburbs, and communities within these areas.
The team works in concert with police, local government, social service agencies, and local businesses and residents' representatives. Initiatives span short-term projects to complex, multi-agency longitudinal programs.
Overall, the goal is to increase the capacity of communities to respond to local issues for themselves, reduce crime rates, and enhance the safety and prosperity of the municipality.
The team works on a range of issues, from the deeply complex, such as the illegal drugs market operating in several streets, to 'spot-fire' issues, short but dramatic issues that typically arise in areas already beset by social disadvantage.
The team does not lead problem-solving initiatives, nor does it prescribe solutions. Rather, it collaborates with citizens adversely affected and relevant professional bodies to find collectively agreed to solutions.
Problems are not necessarily solved quickly, but they handled in ways that meet the needs of many, not the rights of a few.
The CPt's problem-solving approach is therefore difficult to quantify as a set procedural practice, but there are core elements:
- Principled relationships
- Listen, Learn, Participate.
- Be active
- Find the strengths in people.
These are now explored.
Trust, respect, and integrity are the principles that underpin the team's work, and it places a premium on establishing 'principled relationships' with professional stakeholders and the communities it assists.
Developing such relations is time-consuming, challenging, sometimes confrontational, and requires patience, skilled facilitation, and a high degree of reflection, but it establishes confidence in the team's neutrality and commitment to the cause.
Values-led relationships provide the team with a comprehensive knowledge about the social, cultural, political, and organisational contexts of the communities it is assisting, and enables the team to negotiate conflict, and participate in collective problem-solving.
The team listens to everyone affected by the issue being resolved. This includes the people who are otherwise considered to be 'the wrong-doer'. The team does not blame or judge, and eschews 'victim/wrong-doer' 'right/wrong' labels, refrains from aligning with any side. Pertinently this, extends to partner agencies.
The issues that affect the municipality are the focus of a number of other agencies, notably police, counsel, and government services. In taking the role of 'listener' the team puts itself in a position where it works with, but stands at one remove from, all stakeholders.
Drawing on its principled relations, the team holds this neutrality to act outside the otherwise defined, or anticipated, agendas of justice, a position that ensures it contributes to solutions that work for all citizens.
The team seeks to understand the issue by exploring:
- What happened
- Facts, perceptions, positions, and agendas.
A core part of solving problems is understanding that one issue can be seen through diametrically different lenses. For this reason, the team shares the perspectives it gathers to facilitate the level of understanding required to reach collectively agreeable solutions.
People may take on a formal operational model to resolve an issue but there's no immediate incentive to do so. The starting point is to work together. Given the complexity of the issues, this starting point is often an end point in itself.
Solutions are sought through options, rather than fixed solutions, and in this, the collective considers such things as:
- Needs-based, not rights-based' action
- Realistic expectations
- Moving from negative, to neutral, to positive contributions
- What behaviour must change
- What services or assistance is needed
- Time lines
- What happens if things to no happen within the agreed parametres
Professional agencies may bring solutions to the table, and Victoria's first safe injecting room established in one of the NJC's high impact locations, is an example of this.
Alternatively, solutions may simply evolve, as the creation of an indigenous music festival proves.
As a problem-solving methodology used in many areas of community development it is not new, but for justice combining theory, empirical data, and citizen-led solution processes is a significantly new approach to improving public safety.
Action-led problem solving
Neither proactive or reactive, the team is, however, 'active' in that it will juggle competing priorities, and take on new tasks without notice.
This flexibility accords with the core element of community justice: decentralise authority to tailor services to meet the needs of communities, and work with communities, not for them.
Strengths-based problem solving
Initiatives guided by community justice target the strengths and capabilities of disadvantaged individuals, groups and communities to assist solutions to crime, conflict and public safety issues.
The CPt works on the fundamental principle that everyone has valuable strengths and skills, and it enhances the quality of relationships between people in conflict, and/or who must work together to foster collaboration.
This 'diplomatic' work is not part of the mainstream justice, which broadly speaking focuses on the weaknesses of individuals: ‘troublemakers’, ‘low achievers’, ‘anti-social’, 'potential criminals'.
Strengths-based approaches hinge on:
- Understanding and respecting the needs and interests of individuals, groups and/or communities
- Valuing the community as the repository of essential and rich resources
- Viewing collaboration as central
- Believing that all people/communities have the capacity to learn, grow and change.
Crime Prevention principles of practice
The team lists the key skills required to build relationships of trust and integrity:
- listen and hear people
- commitment to the idea of a ‘good society’
- ‘tune in’ to people and what is going on quickly
- trust your intuition
- be adaptive and flexible
- understand and respect cultural and social protocols
- mediate conflict, complexity and chaos
- let go of ego
- build strengths
- walk with integrity
- have no vested position
- a willingness to be hopeful when all around you are hopeless
- a curiosity that asks ‘How could we make this work? What good can come from this?
The team is guided by Arnstein's Ladder of Citizen Participation and the International Association of Public Participation's spectrum of engagement
To this end, depending on the issue and the potential outcomes, the team wears one of a variety of hats:
- Lead: actively leads the planning and implementation of projects with input and involvement from key partners and stakeholders
- Support: provides advice, information, materials and/or funding, attendant ('be seen')
- Mentor: coach an individual, group or organisation to build their ability to deliver their own goals
- Broker: bring groups together around a particular issues, need or interest
- Community capacity builder: run forums, workshops, facilitate information-sharing
- Participant: member of networks, forums, workshops and committees.
- Host: events/activities to showcase achievements of local communities
- Advocate: a voice for Yarra in front of government, community agencies.
The team role-models positive values and behaviours. Leading by example is especially important in times of conflict, during challenging interactions, and when actions or agreements are not going to plan. It requires the ability to reflect and evaluate, and respond to lessons learnt.
Fostering community spirit
The team is involved in programs that directly or indirectly change values, norms and standards of behaviour, agreed to by community for the common good.
The team's communitarian approach focuses on empowering communities to assert moral standards and values for themselves and for individuals to be accountable for their own conduct.
This thinking emphasises the interest of groups and communities over those of the individual, an alternative approach to traditional Libertarian thinking that has framed much of the western criminal justice system.
Communitarians states that if members of a community enter dialogue with each other they would find many items of acceptable behaviour on which they agree.
Encouraging members of the community to abide by these agreed upon principles would diminish the need for formal control mechanisms to control unacceptable behaviour.