The Kamloops Food Policy Council has launched a series on food and the city to explore a number of deeper civic discussions leading up to our municipal election. As the late urban planner and Canadian food advocate Wayne Roberts wrote, “food is a lever.” Food is how we connect to the land, our communities, and our traditions. And because food is so impactful in all our lives, it is a useful lever through which we can create transformative changes in other areas. Strong local food systems can help us get to more affordable housing, walkable neighbourhoods, stronger local economies, spaces for safety and belonging, and more.
Exploring Community Safety in Kamloops
What does it mean to feel safe in our community? At the Kamloops Food Policy Council, we’ve noticed our understanding of safety has undergone drastic revisions over the last few years as we’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, floods, and supply-chain issues. These emergencies and challenges have brought new and complex needs to our community.
This new and heightened level of need may be a contributing factor to the increase in crime rates and decrease in perceptions of safety we are currently seeing in Kamloops. When discussing safety, it’s important to consider the actualized levels of safety as well as our perceptions of it. While general unease has increased and feelings of safety have decreased in current years, current crime statistics show a decrease in general crime. Our current crime severity index score in Kamloops is 135.5, with the RCMP reporting in their Quarter 4 year end report this spring that criminal offences have risen 5% from 2020 to 2021. However, our current score shows a decrease compared to historical data. In 2000, Kamloops had a crime severity index score of 160.31. This score peaked at 190.92 in 2003, and reached a record low of 98.14 in 2015.
Safety is a complex topic, and it is often hard to see the whole picture of public safety and security in our community. Statistics don’t tell us everything and are often hard to come by in detail at a local level. However, despite these challenges, it is necessary to aim for a comprehensive understanding of community safety to address the issues that influence our perceptions and actualized levels of safety.
According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), community safety engages personal security, personal development, and community development at the individual and community level. The UNDP also suggests that true safety includes an ensured “freedom from fear.” In broader definitions, safety also includes “freedom from want” for all community members. This understanding aligns with a core value of the KFPC: to alleviate poverty and promote food security for all.
Freedom from fear and freedom from want are both needed for community saftey. Who is experiencing fear and/or want is an important and complex question to address. Marginalized people in our community, including people of colour, those who are unhoused, individuals experiencing food insecurity, individuals whom have untreated mental health issues or substance abuse disorders, and those living in abusive environments are the most vulnerable and at risk when it comes to their personal safety, and the least likely to be experiencing these freedoms from want or need. These groups are also most likely to experience stigma and shame, even though our whole community benefits when we address the systems that put people into these circumstances (see our recent short film Don’t Fight the Poor, Fight Poverty).
Currently, our default solution to increasing community safety is policing. While one part of a complex structure, it is important to note that policing doesn’t address freedom from want occurring in our community. Evidence shows us that more policing isn’t necessarily the best solution to increasing community safety, especially for marginalized groups where policing can impose higher risks. For example, Indigenous and Black citizens are overrepresented per capita in deadly police encounters. So, what other solutions can we turn to to create a safer community?
In the context of these complex social issues, the KFPC is advocating for the development of a comprehensive community safety strategy on behalf of the City of Kamloops. This effort will require solid leadership and partnership efforts from the whole community, as well as meaningful involvement from those most in need and most lacking safety in our communities. It will also require all of us to step up in our own neighbourhoods, as our neighbours’ safety directly effects our own. An example of a small step that can go a long way in creating safety in our neighbourhoods, is the McDonald Park Neighbourhood Association’s recently opened Free Community Produce Stand in McDonald Park.
Some other feasible solutions might include more street outreach teams, more support for basic needs like housing and food security, and reallocation of municipal funding to reduce the responsibilities of police in situations such as mental health issues or domestic disputes. The development and implementation of safety audits in different community environments would also be beneficial to give our community an idea of our existing safety levels, and allow us to make recommendations and implement new initiatives based on our immediate needs.
Overall, an integrated strategy with supporting processes and mechanisms for implementing solutions can go a long way in increasing the level of safety in our community, and ensuring it extends beyond police force responsibility. We can all participate in keeping each other safe!