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Course makes citizens hard targets

Edmonton Police have commenced a citizen course on personal safety. To do so they have targetted a portion of the population that would not normally seek out police assistance.


July 18, 2012
By Ryan Lawley

1034 words – MR

Hard Target Sample Photo Compressed.jpg, HardTargetClassDemo2.jpg, HardTargetClassPractice.jpg

HEAD: Course makes citizens hard targets

by Ryan Lawley

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Edmonton Police Service (EPS) have implemented several novel initiatives as part of their commitment to reducing violence and crime. One that has received much community and media attention is Hard Target, a personal safety course offered free to greater Edmonton area residents.

Personal safety is a broad concept and most people seek input from the police to ensure they are doing the right things. When someone takes this course, they receive the counsel they are looking for but also become empowered by what they have learned and gain a sense of proportion as to how crime affects their lives.

It’s important that citizens receive crime prevention information that they can use immediately – and that’s what they look for from the course – but there also has to be something more to keep them interested. It can’t simply be a police officer standing in front of a crowded room saying ‘do this, don’t do this’ and assuming the messages are going to stick. They won’t unless there’s a contextual element to the proceedings.

I attempt to provide that by delving into the psychological element that drives a desire for personal safety. Perception of crime can cause anxiety and erode a person’s sense of community. This comes from exposure to media and the like that focuses on crime stories and stats without any context. What they hear might have little to no impact on the average law-abiding citizen’s life but it still feeds an increasing sense of fear.

Hard Target addresses this by combining elements of self defense training with a standard crime prevention curriculum. The course was named after the well-known police strategy to reduce victimization and has become an instant success.

What I found was that, as an agency, we just couldn’t attract the demographic most vulnerable to victimization for certain crime types. Almost all the crime prevention sessions I have been a part of were attended by people who were already engaged with the police in some capacity. That wasn’t good enough – and needed to be corrected.

Thus began a process of identifying a means of attracting and communicating with people who traditionally wouldn’t attend a crime prevention lecture. Busy social and professional lives put a premium on time and that was the main obstacle to effective crime prevention messaging reaching its intended target audience.

{Enticement needed}

There needed to be an enticement; some sort of value-added appeal to justify a person dedicating personal time to the matter. That’s why we came up with the self defense component. I took my experience as a martial arts instructor and competitor and married it with my role as a police officer trying to inform the public and arrived at a unique conclusion.

I realized that the students I teach in boxing and mixed martial arts classes were exactly the people I needed to reach. It was a short leap to arriving at a solution where I could give something back to citizens in exchange for their time.

Co-workers were supportive and began embracing the idea in earnest when they had the opportunity to host a session. The class was promoted through social media and word-of-mouth and within days the first session was at capacity. The public was clearly starved for this type of course.

To date, over 500 participants have successfully completed the Hard Target course, earning a certificate and limited edition t-shirt as part of the graduation package; more importantly, they learn skills and concepts applicable to personal safety. We show students how they can protect themselves and loved ones and then use that as a base to speak to vehicle, home and community security.

This course consists of four two-hour classes, with 90 minutes dedicated to skills training and the remaining 30 minutes focused on a specific crime prevention topic. Each class covers something relevant to victimization trends commonly seen in any metropolitan area, such as theft of or from automobiles and even serious crimes like personal robberies and assaults.

We have an excellent education component in the course and numerous giveaway items, all designed to be implemented immediately. Anti theft licence plate screws, steering wheel clubs, prevention brochures – you name it, we do our best to cover it and educate the participants.

{Personalized delivery}

Without exception, people taking the course are struck most by their interactions with police officers during the sessions; it is spoken of with high praise and humanizes the agency in their eyes. Because of that, our messaging carries a weight that it would lack if delivered in some static or staid manner.

It’s such personalized delivery that citizens truly feel accountable to us and the time we spent together in the classes. We’ve received feedback from former students who apologize to us when their car gets broken into after they have taken the class because they almost feel like they have let us down.

That’s not our intention but it demonstrates the bonds that get created during Hard Target. It’s sobering to realize you’ve had that level of impact on a person. We always speak to transparency and accountability of police agencies to the citizenry but it can certainly work both ways, to the benefit of each. That’s what community policing was meant to engender, both as a founding principle and as a guiding paradigm. The key is to recognize successes in non-traditional policing efforts and not miss opportunities to foster that type of connection.

With more than 600 total participants expected to have completed the course by the end of this year, there are already plans to continue it well into the future, based on continued community interest.

We have demonstrated that the public appreciates something like this from their policing agency. It brings the citizens and police together for congruent purpose. Nobody wants to be victimized, police want to reduce victimization.

Hard Target brings those outcomes together. Maybe we will see other agencies adopt their own Hard Target classes. In the interest of community policing, I would support that.

BIO

EPS Acting Sergeant Ryan Lawley created the Hard Target course. Contact him at ryan.lawley@edmontonpolice.ca for more information.