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A simple idea that grew


May 1, 2015
By Tom McKay

When I first wrote about the Peel Regional Police (PRP) Crime Prevention Academy (CPA) in (October 2003), I tagged it as “A simple idea that’s revolutionizing crime prevention.” After more than 20,500 participants, it’s time to evaluate whether the concept lived up to the billing.

{Overview}

In its essence, the academy is one of those simple ideas that resonates with people. It should therefore come as no surprise that after almost 15 years, demand for the concept is stronger than ever.

The CPA was developed to offer comprehensive crime prevention training to people who live, work or play in Peel Region. It distinguishes itself from the more police oriented Citizens’ Police Academy by teaching participants need to know knowledge and practical tips designed to keep them, their families and property safe.

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A defining attribute is the unprecedented level of crime prevention training it offers free of charge. Its core version – there are several – contains 15 hours of in-depth crime prevention training that is typically delivered over a six week period.

The course begins by providing students with a basic understanding of crime, fear, prevention and police communications before tackling issues such as home security, personal, traffic and computer safety, fraud, counterfeit money detection and finally, dealing with common neighbourhood problems.

Opportunities for learning are optimized by meeting student needs. This includes providing a proper learning environment such as a classroom, auditorium, library or meeting room. Students are given a one inch binder to house weekly notes and other supplements representing the more than 500 power point slides and numerous videos they view in the course.

The quality of instruction is a make or break aspect of delivering a meaningful learning experience. The academy uses a variety of speakers and subject matter experts, including Manny Parreira, senior analyst with the Bank of Canada. The bank has been a partner since 2004 and delivers one of the most popular segments, where students can touch, look and feel real and counterfeit banknotes.

In a notable session, the CBC filmed a segment of the CPA for its business show Venture highlighting the efforts of Parreira and his team to educate the public how to detect counterfeit currency. Parreira continues to support the program since it “dovetails perfectly with the bank’s awareness and education program.”

The student experience draws to a close after the post-test (an identical test is given at the beginning of the course). The first test is used to benchmark knowledge and the second to demonstrate learning.

Students are also asked to complete two exit surveys and those who attended all six sessions receive a certificate of completion.

{Putting principles into practice}

We know from lifestyle surveys that the vast majority of graduates put some aspect of what they learned into practice, which can have dramatic effects. Three burglars targeted one graduate’s home by donning hard hats and vests to pass themselves off as a construction crew. They had used this ruse to break into the front entrance of four homes using a large crow bar.

Fortunately, like 86 per cent of our graduates, she acted on advice received in the academy by replacing the standard strike plate on her door jambs with a four-hole security strike plate fastened with larger screws. The burglars were unable to penetrate the door despite causing significant damage.

Unfazed, the burglars’ regrouped at the side entrance. Unbeknownst to them, this door was also fortified with a security strike plate and time was running out. The now wide awake and terrified homeowner made a frantic 911 call from her bathroom shower, where she and her two daughters had taken refuge while waiting for police to arrive.

Her actions kept the family safe and led to the capture of three brazen burglars in the midst of a crime spree. It also cleared four outstanding break-ins and one previous attempt, including a successful entry that occurred earlier that morning.

{The multiplier effect}

Graduates are adept at reducing the rate of criminal victimization for their households. A sample group showed a substantial 66.6 per cent drop in year over year victimization rate after taking the CPA.

The benefits are not limited to graduates, since they often share their knowledge with friends and acquaintances. A graduate recently took it upon herself to teach her immediate neighbours of the benefits of installing a security strike plate. Four neighbours installed the security feature.

In other examples, graduates share their knowledge with people in their places of worship and workplaces. This has resulted in academies being held in churches and mosques and strategic partnerships, giving police access to otherwise difficult to reach high risk or vulnerable segments of the community.

Examples include the Safe City Associations for Brampton and Mississauga, English as a Second Language (ESL) providers and community living organizations that support the developmentally challenged.

{Dedicated academies}

The Safe City partnerships grew out of a desire to take the CPA concept to high schools. This resulted in the development of a youth oriented academy that replaced many of the more property oriented segments with youth oriented topics such as drugs, cyberbullying, street gangs and truancy.

The youth academy was provided to the Safe City Associations, which took over administration and rolled it out to high schools throughout the region.

To date, more than 18,000 students have graduated from one of the two high school versions of the program. The Brampton version, known as Youth Education and Safety (Y.E.S.), inspired students to dedicate more than 44,000 hours of volunteer time to community projects.

The value of these partnerships were not lost on participants or outsiders.

The constable was “alright at first,” said one participant at Safe City Mississauga’s Crossroads Academy. “I didn’t really want to give him a chance because of all my past negative experiences with police but as the presentation went on I realized that he really likes his job and enjoys speaking with youth.

“I really liked how he explained things to us and spoke at our level. He made things clear and he showed us he understands the system from our point of view. I appreciate the fact that he didn’t try to preach to us but simply gave us the information. I realize now that all police are not the same.”

While the value of this type of testimonial is not easily measured, the Mississauga version of the program was recognized internationally by the International Society of Crime Prevention Practitioners (ISCPP) at its 2005 Symposium. It named the Crossroads Academy as the “Community Crime Prevention Program of the Year” for populations over 100,000.

Other partnerships have resulted in similar opportunities to deliver dedicated CPAs to vulnerable and high needs members of the community. This includes the partnerships formed with ESL providers, who provide the police service with direct access to large groups of newcomers. This helps to reassure this community during a vital time in their settlement process, addressing potential safety and security concerns and giving them an extended opportunity to meet and feel comfortable with police in their adopted homeland.

The same can be said of community living organizations dedicated to supporting developmentally challenged people. They provide the police service with direct access to large groups of developmentally challenged individuals who are often victimized. The development and delivery of a dedicated academy tailored to their needs helps them feel more confident and secure.

The adaptability of the concept clearly contributes to its success and further supported the selection of the CPA as an exemplary project by CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies).

{Variations}

The practice of developing dedicated academies began with a Neighbourhood Watch group. While this type of academy showed early promise (as mentioned in the 2003 article), it was later abandoned so resources could be dedicated to Safe City Mississauga’s Crossroads version.

Over the years other themes developed including the Parent CPA, a modestly successful concept designed to teach parents “everything” they needed to know to keep their kids safe and out of trouble. It represented 12.5 hours of training spread over a five week period, making it difficult for some parents to attend. The concept has since been eclipsed by the development of the very popular cyber academy (CA), which draws heavy interest from parents and others in the community.

The CA is typically a four week/10 hour program which was developed in 2008. It has mass appeal to large segments of the community as the curriculum is designed to teach adults how to safely use electronic devices and services. It is particularly appealing to parents with children as it provides instruction on cyber-bullying, media distraction, social media sites/apps popular with kids, Internet child exploitation, computer security, cyber fraud and media addiction.

The CA uses in-house experts, including officers drawn from crime prevention and road safety services and the Internet child exploitation, fraud and tech crime units. Participants are given contact resources in the event that they become the victim of fraud and/or a computer security breech and a list of apps which have the potential for danger, including conversations, situations or developing unwanted followers.

The pace of change within cyberspace can be overwhelming, which can render many conventional documents obsolete as they sit on the shelves. The CA is regularly updated and benefits from incorporating the latest information available to police as they seek out threats.

The CA’s relevancy helps to explain its growth and popularity and why very little time is needed to fill a 100 auditorium to capacity and beyond. It is also a reflection of the way the academy is now being promoted. Until recently it relied on the conventional use of the Peel Police web site and news releases but this has since been supplemented with tweets and school based contacts drawn from youth education officers. Waiting lists are now routine.

{A success}

The crime prevention concept has proven to be an outstanding success by almost any metric. Now in their 15th year, the family of academies are more popular than ever. This is borne out by its legion of graduates, many whom register for other versions of the academy. It is also routinely communicated through thousands of positive comments on exit surveys.

The academy continues to generate positive outcomes, including increased satisfaction with feelings of safety and a decreased annual victimization rate. It also continues to enjoy professional success, as measured by the unwavering support from community partners.

Peer interest has also been great. Articles in and resulted in dozens of “how to manuals” being sent to police services across North America. The concept has even caught the attention of the local press.

It is clear that the CPA concept is thriving as it continues to grow and build momentum. It has definitely revolutionized the way in which crime prevention is being delivered. Just ask the graduates!

BIO BOX


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