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And now, a word from Massachusetts

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And now, a word from Massachusetts

For Boston, the tipping point came at 10pm on August 26. An argument on Boston's historic public Common turned violent, two teenagers were shot, and a bullet shattered a window in State House offices—one floor below where the Governor works.

Bostonians were already concerned that their Common had become a haven for drug dealers and violent crime. In an effort to restore the public's sense of security, Boston police announced an enforced, park-wide11pm curfew.

It's the kind of scenario John Gillis wants to avoid in Halifax. On Wednesday night, Gillis held a meeting to discuss Commons Watch. It's his own initiative, although he has already received support from downtown councillor Dawn Sloane, mayor Kelly and Halifax Regional Police.

"Basically, we want to talk to folks to try and remedy the situation in a community-based, non-confrontational, positive way," he says. Commons Watch poses the concept of a citizen patrol—more involved than a neighbourhood watch, but, according to Gillis, stopping short of vigilantism.

"We've heard all this talk about the Guardian Angels...that's not the model we're looking at. This is about acting as a deterrent."

In addition to giving citizens walkie-talkies to communicate directly with police officers, "we've tossed around the idea of using golf carts to patrol the Common, to cover more ground...installing video cameras, perhaps providing some kind of summer jobs for students," he says. "I don't know...at this point, most of these options are still up in the air."

Sloane agrees the project still needs to establish its boundaries. She also asserts that the city is still doing its part to curb violent crime—not simply relying on volunteers to provide a solution to a dangerous problem.

"I should stress we're not asking anyone to put themselves in harm's way," she says. "These would not be vigilantes by any means. This would function as a complementary tool for the police. We're trying to mobilize and organize the community, to take back something that is ours from the criminal element."

Sloane is quick to point out the work of the HRM Community Response Team. That group has been preparing to carry out an environmental safety audit of the Commonbasically, an examination of how infrastructure can be used to enhance security.

"In a full-blown audit, we'd be looking at what's known as CPTED— Crime prevention through environmental design," explains Dwight Hennigar, a co-ordinator with the response team. The team hasn't yet made a full report, but they have made some preliminary recommendations.

We say, bring on the full-blown audit. Some of the group's recommendations have already been implemented, and they're good—two large bushes near a crosswalk on Robie Street were recently removed, opening up sightlines for pedestrians entering the Common.

"It involves things like, if you're going to do some landscaping on the park, keep the shrubs lower than two feet, limit the size of trees and tree limbs," says Hennigar. "If you're putting in new benches, provide benches that can't be burned. You know, try to cut down on hiding spots; try to avoid creating walls by using fences that you can see through; add more lighting. Things like that."

Interested in joining Commons Watch? Email halifaxcommonswatch@hotmail.com. Interested in anything else? Email mikef@thecoast.ca.

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