Submitted by Frank Johnson
At this time of year almost every time we turn the on the TV we see a film based on the season. My favourite is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I'm sure you know it.
It’s a Christmas classic about a small-town guy (George Bailey, played by James Stewart) who falls into some financial difficulty on Christmas Eve through no fault of his own. His partner in his Building and Loan Association and Uncle, Billy, has lost his deposit on the same day the bank examiner is coming to inspect their books. Without the deposit they will be in serious legal trouble. His competitor, Mr. Potter, who acts as the town’s ‘Scrooge’ and owns the bank where Uncle Billy was depositing the money, finds the lost money and keeps it to himself. The Building and Loan Association loans money to people Mr. Potter won’t so that they can have a decent home and create a community of people caring for and about each other.
This sends George into despair and he contemplates taking his life in the hopes his insurance will cover the deficit and save his family from ruin. Up in Heaven (yes, in 1946 we could talk openly about that) an apprentice angel named Clarence is waiting for a chance to earn his wings. He is assigned to George so that he may save him from this terrible choice. He does so by creating a situation where George has to save his life and George, being the guy he is, doesn't’t hesitate.
George tells his new friend Clarence about his troubles and feeling that he is a failure. Clarence hatches a plan to show him what life in his town of Bedford Falls would be like had George not been there to be a friend to so many. The town had become a gambling den, rife with crime and poverty. It’s a sad life without George and he has an epiphany that brings him back to reality willing to face consequences for something he did not do.
However, in the meantime his wife and friends have banded together to raise the missing money that saves George from disgrace and jail. In the climatic scene that closes the film (spoiler alert) as the family and friends are gathered by the Christmas tree, a bell on the tree rings and Zuzu, George’s youngest daughter tells him every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings. As he looks down into the basket of money raised by his friends and family he spots Clarence’s favourite book with an inscription “No man is a failure who has friends”. You may remember the scene. George is a friend to many in his hometown of Bedford Falls and at that moment he experiences the fruit of all the friendships he has made over the years. It is a powerful story, almost a parable, about as far away from “Bad Santa” as you can get.
The concept of “friends” and the influential role they play in our lives and our projects aligns with the initiative of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council’s launch of the “Friends of Crime Prevention” network. This idea grew out of the work done by the ad hoc Governance Committee, led by the efforts of Peter Ringrose and others. Their task was to increase the engagement of the citizens of the Region without adding to the Council’s membership, which is already comprehensive. The ad hoc committee did not use the term “acquaintances” or “associates” but purposefully used “Friends” because of its power.
Think of your close friends. These are people who share your passion and principles and who will stand with you even when things are tough; in fact, especially when things are tough. These are the people the WRCPC is looking for as friends of Crime Prevention.
What is a Friend of Crime Prevention?
No one organization, including the WRPS, John Howard Society, school boards, among many, can solve the problem of crime by working alone. We need their expertise and input but we also need that of businesses, social agencies, churches, colleges, universities and, perhaps equally as important, neighbourhoods made up of citizens like you and me who want to live in a safer, more civil society.
Another goal of the WRCPC is to provide strategic leadership in bringing many voices to the table and providing timely and relevant support, resources, research and sponsorship of events that will be the clearinghouse of ideas and projects for crime prevention in Waterloo Region. As you know, the WRCPC is looked to around the world as an exemplar of an organization that mobilizes the community to prevent crime.
The Friends of Crime Prevention initiative is a demonstration of the Council’s commitment to meeting the goals of its Strategic Plan. This network of friends, working collaboratively with each other and the Council shows that it takes a village to also create a community. It gives us access to a broader alliance of people sharing a common purpose who can bring a new array of knowledge and skills to collectively own the goal of truly creating safe streets and communities, more by collaborative actions than legislation.
Like George Bailey, we believe in the power of community. We know communities are groups of friends who want the best for each other and know that safe streets and neighbourhoods are born from connectivity. Research based upon the “Broken Window Theory” demonstrates that citizens, taking an active and intentional role in their community, help make it safer. In that theory, if no one intervenes to keep a neighbourhood safe, then it will continue to deteriorate and can become criminalized as the sense of community is lost since there is no collective ownership of the neighbourhood.
By becoming a “Friend of Crime Prevention” you can, as Gandhi said, “ be the change you wish to see in the world”. It’s a pretty simple process. Just visit www.preventingcrime.ca/friends, and join.
And, on December 24th, grab some popcorn and enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
Oh, and some Kleenex too. You’ll need it.
Author: Frank Johnson is a regular guest writer for Smart on Crime in Waterloo Region. Frank is a retired principal with the local Catholic school board, a dad, and sometimes runner who possesses an irreverent sense of humour that periodically gets him in trouble. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.
Frank Johnson's writing reflects his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views or official positions of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.