“You were in my kitchen when you were five-years-old,” she said. Her way of saying I’ve known you since you were a child and care about what happens to you. That was just one of many heartfelt messages delivered by local clergy and community leaders to five young men from the Uniacke Square area.
The two groups came together as part of an innovative diversion program launched by Halifax Regional Police (HRP), in cooperation with the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia, the Centre for Entrepreneurial and Education Development (CEED), Metroworks, Leave Out Violence, local clergy, community groups, community leaders and service providers. The Uptown Drug Market Intervention (DMI) pilot project is intended to address the ongoing issue of open market drug dealing in Uniacke Square and focuses on five men who face charges stemming from an undercover drug trafficking operation in June 2012. The men were invited to a meeting in December with key stakeholders who made a unified statement reinforcing that drug dealing in their community will not be tolerated and pledging their support to help them make a positive change in their lives.
The message was heard loud and clear; in exchange for having their charges stayed, four of the five men have entered an employment/skills development program. While in the program, their progress will be closely monitored by a support team. If they fail to make an honest attempt to succeed, drop out of the program or commit a crime, their charges will proceed to court. If they successfully complete the program, their charges will be dropped.
The pilot project marks a significant departure from traditional policing for HRP.
“We recognized that to be effective in permanently shutting down open air drug markets and alleviating the associated community concerns, we have to look at addressing the root causes of drug trafficking,” says Superintendent Sean Auld, Central Divisional Commander. “We chose to step outside of the box and engage citizens in creating solutions that not only reduce crime but empower them to take an active role in enhancing safety in their community.”
The Uniacke Square community has embraced the project; it not only affords an opportunity to take back their neighbourhood but also gives four of their young men a second chance.
“I was excited when HRP approached me with this initiative. This is a tremendous opportunity for these young men who may otherwise have escalated in criminal activity that we recognize leads to violence,” said Reverend Rhonda Britton of Cornwallis Street Baptist Church. “It has its official name, but the clergy call it ‘Operation Choose Life.’ These men can choose to turn their lives around. We choose to come alongside to encourage them and help them realize their full potential. It is a win for them and a win for the community. It is a proactive step in reducing violence in HRM.”
The Uptown DMI is based on the award winning High Point Drug Market Intervention Program. More information can be found at www.halifax.ca/Police/UptownDrugMarketIntervention.html