Four young men facing drug trafficking charges have committed to turning their lives around as part of an innovative diversion program recently launched in HRM.
Halifax Regional Police, 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 launched the Uptown Drug Market Intervention (DMI) pilot project to address the ongoing issue of open market drug dealing in Uniacke Square. The pilot project focuses on four men from the community who face drug trafficking charges stemming from an undercover operation in June 2012. The men were invited to a meeting in December with key stakeholders from the community who delivered a strong message reinforcing that drug trafficking in their community will not be tolerated and pledging their support to help them make a positive change in their lives. In exchange for having their charges stayed, each man has 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.
“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 Supt. Sean Auld, Central Divisional Commander. “We needed to step outside of the box of traditional policing strategies 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 Uptown Drug Market Intervention Pilot Project is based on a diversion model initially launched in High Point, North Carolina and successfully implemented in 25 other cities across the United States. The program has resulted in a sustained drop in violence and drug-related crime. More importantly, residents have reported an increase in their quality-of-life and a sense of having taken back their neighbourhood.
“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,” says 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 Drug Market Intervention Pilot Project is the first of its kind in Canada.