BY CRAIG GILBERT
The last thing members of the Ukrainian Club wanted to see on their way out the door is a swastika spray painted large as life on a rock face across the way.
The symbol of evil and hatred may have provided a cheap thrill for the Â?artist,Â? but no doubt brought up painful memories of the Second World War for those who had to put up with it.
Loiterers with nothing better to do than drink, make a mess and vandalize city and private property chose the area behind the Ukrainian Centre because it was isolated, said Greater Sudbury Police Service Sgt. Wayne Foster.
Some paint over the graffiti and the removal of a few bushes to create a better line of sight solved the problem, one of many dealt with by the new Community Response Unit.
The CRU, or Â?problem solving unit,Â? turned a year old on Jan 8.
Supervised by Foster, three male and one female constables, with a wide variety of experience and perspectives, have been working on special projects to clean up Greater Sudbury, and have had considerable success.
The unit operates proactively to prevent crime through special operations and relies heavily on stakeholder involvement.
The first project the unit tackled was the downtown coreÂ?s bus depot/Tim Hortons/L.C.B.O. area.
Police received a series of complaints that are naturally associated with Â?people magnetsÂ? such as loitering, graffiti, drug deals, intimidation and violence.
Â?We were going out there four and five times a day,Â? he said.
With help from the owners and some undercover work, the unit wrapped up their operations in May 2003 with warrants and arrests, some related to drug dealing.
Since the first operation around the transit centre wrapped up, complaints from that area have dropped by a third.
Â?That is huge for a unit that has been around for 12 months,Â? Foster said, especially considering the unitsÂ? members were re-assigned for 244 days in total during that time.
Foster commands Constables Brunette, Hagen, McDougall and Despatie.
Before the unit was commissioned, there were only two constables assigned to crime prevention.
The unit is an attempt to reduce crime by attacking its underlying causes. The benefits, he said, are often difficult to make clear to the brass at the police service, because itÂ?s hard to come up with statistics on things that never happened.
Foster used the 244 days of reassignment to front line or narcotics unit work as an example. A backlog of complaints was dealt with, he was told, so the constables were needed.
Â?I said if you let these guys (and one woman) do their job, there wonÂ?t be as many complaints!Â?
The key to crime prevention, he said, is getting the stakeholders, many times the owners of property where trouble is cropping up, to take ownership of the problem.
That lets them feel more empowered and positive about living in the city and the police force protecting them.
With their cooperation, simple modifications can be made that either alleviate the problems or make them easier to deal with.
The method used to deal with the swastika above is called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.
The bus depot area is such a problem in part because the walkway between it and the liquor store is perfect for loitering: there is a planter just the right height to sit on or skateboard across.
If that planter had v-cuts taken out of the surface or had a more varied height, it would be less of a problem.
The covered gazebo in Memorial Park is another sore spot for Foster. Originally intended for a cool place for families to rest in the summer, it has become a haven for drunks and a distraction for the uniform patrol. Remove the location, he said, and you remove the problem.
Foster pointed to a Â?safe wallÂ? where street artists can spray paint without fear of reprisal.
Since the wall was introduced on an alley off an alley downtown, the graffiti on surrounding surfaces has all but disappeared.
Foster said every problem has three main components: victim, location and offender. If anyone of those elements is removed, the crime doesnÂ?t happen.
Each case, he said, is approached with different priorities.
If lighting along a secluded path is taken out, the possible victim will avoid the creepier area.
Â?The lights brighten up the victim, not the sex offender hiding in the bushes,Â? Foster said. Â?You remove the victim, you prevent the crime.Â?
A problem worthy of dealing with, Foster explained, must have two or more similar incidents (or complaints) associated with it, must be capable of causing harm and must have a public expectation of the police to address it.
The unit has about 25 projects on the go.
The CRU also assists other units and has even received requests for help from other police departments. The CRU members have helped out the CID unit with canvassing and surveillance, the Drug Unit with undercover work (as it did at the Tim Hortons area downtown) and arrests, the Domestic Violence Unit, the R.I.D.E. program and even the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Foster recalled some work the CRU did with the MNR at the outset of the bird-hunting season last year north of Capreol.
Weapons werenÂ?t stored safely and open liquor containers were among what the unit found. One man arrested for impaired driving, Foster recalled with contempt, had unsafe stored firearms, an open alcoholic drink and his two children in the vehicle with him.
That area, as well, has seen a significant reduction in complaints.
When they arenÂ?t being reassigned to regular patrol or the drug unit, the CRU also executes outstanding warrants.
The unit at one time tracked down a man who had skipped town and moved to Texas.
He was free and clear, but a phone call from the CRU convinced him to turn himself in the next day, in Sudbury, no less.