Preventing crime a city at a time

homelessAn Edmonton pilot project that reduces minor crimes is now being rolled out in Calgary. Reducing crime, and diverting justice system resources to more serious matters, is being done by helping vulnerable Albertans get their lives back on track.

The Alternative to Warrant Apprehension Project (AWAP) is a collaborative initiative that resolves outstanding minor convictions and warrants. It connects vulnerable Albertans to caseworkers who help them get the services they need to resolve challenges in their lives. By doing this, people are more likely to maintain or increase the stability in their lives and in turn, less likely to break the law— for example, because they are able to maintain or get housing or employment.

Ultimately, it improves community safety by preventing crime, and allowing law enforcement and court resources to go to more pressing matters.

“People experiencing homelessness are often told to appear in court for public nuisance offences and then fail to appear,” said Edmonton assistant chief Crown prosecutor Dave Hill. “These offences then result in outstanding warrants, which can prevent vulnerable people from coming forward to get the support they need.

“And a vicious circle of hope and despair can result when vulnerable people complete a program, and begin their road to recovery and independence, only to be denied services or employment due to the outstanding warrant.”

To oversee the project, an AWAP working group was set up with representatives from the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, Court Services, the recently retired Safe Communities initiative, Human Services, Edmonton Police Service, Homeward Trust, and Boyle Street Community Services.

“In many cases involving vulnerable people, the lack of information can make it difficult for police to track them down,” continued Hill. “And when the police do find them, it can cost a lot of money to prosecute a case. In fact, the costs often outweigh the revenue generated from the initial fine.

“And the time taken to deal with these warrants is time that could be used to investigate more serious matters.”

Among the group’s many successes are:

  • An agency guide was developed to help Housing First caseworkers make referrals.
  • Seven training/information sessions were held for 110 caseworkers.
  • A total of 49 clients applied. Of those 49, 31 did not have outstanding warrants. Those 31 were then able to move forward with confidence.
  • Application forms and training support materials were developed.
  • Many applicants have been able to resolve their warrants by having their caseworker provide a progress report.

The group looks forward to the benefits of the project in Edmonton being felt in Calgary too. It’s a win for participants in the program and their families, for police and court staff who can spend their time on more serious matters, and for the public who live in safer communities with less crime.

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