The following is a guest blog by Cliff O’Brien, acting deputy chief of the Calgary Police Service.
Happy holidays. It is a phrase we say so much right now that we can almost start to think it is a given that everyone enjoys this time of year.
While most of us are used to the stress of all the shopping, cooking, hosting and visiting that comes with the celebrations, there are many in our city who are pushed to their breaking point by it all.
Police across our country see an increase in domestic incidents at the end of December each year and Calgary is no exception. We see more domestic violence calls this month than any other month of the year.
That is staggering when you consider that last year, we responded to over 21,500 domestic conflict calls, 5,388 of which involved threatened or actual physical violence.
That adds up to an average of one domestic call every 30 minutes, with one in four of those calls involving violence. For perspective, that is twice the number of domestic violence calls that we saw in 2013. Our officers are also reporting an increase in the intensity of the violence they are seeing.
The numbers for 2019 are a bit better, but not by much. We are still on track to be well above the five-year average, which is putting a strain on the many organizations that support families affected by domestic violence.
I often get asked what is causing this epidemic of violence and my answer is always the same. This is what happens when people with unhealthy relationships are put under pressure.
There is no denying that there is a correlation between the economy and domestic violence. One of our analysts even mapped out a pretty strong link between the price of oil and domestic incidents in Calgary. But it is important to remember that the hard times we are in as a city are not the root cause of the increased violence.
When a family or couple knows how to deal with conflict, stress and decision making in a healthy way, financial hardship or unemployment will not introduce violence into their relationships.
However, when people in a relationship are already dealing with one partner trying to control the other, or anger issues, or any other abusive pattern, added stress can make these things worse. It can turn unhealthy relationships into violent ones.
Unhealthy relationships crumbling under pressure is what makes the added financial stress and time demands of the holidays a perfect storm for some families. People are home more and there are pressures they do not face any other time of the year.
While the economy, unemployment and holiday pressures are largely out of our control, the health of our closest relationships is something we have the power to change.
This change is not easy though, not for the victim or the abuser. People fleeing domestic abuse and violence need access to housing, finances, counselling and a multitude of other supports. Abusers who want to change also need professional help and encouragement to prevent repeating their past behaviours.
As police officers, we are not equipped to bring about this change in relationships. All we can do is go to domestic incidents, make unsafe situations safer and help hold anyone who has broken the law accountable for it. This is an important role, but handcuffs are rarely all that is needed to make an unhealthy situation healthy.
The only thing that leads to lasting change is when the people in an unhealthy relationship decide that change is needed, then seek out the supports they need to get there. That is not to say the change will be quick, easy or smooth. But knowing there is a problem and reaching out for help gives both victims and abusers the best shot of ending harmful cycles in their relationship.
People in healthy relationships also have a role to play. You can teach your children what behaviours are healthy in a relationship and what are not. There are great resources online to help with these conversations and they go a long way.
You can also learn where to turn when someone you know is affected by domestic violence. Knowing how to be a good support for someone is important as you may be the first and only person a co-worker, friend or family member tells about abuse they are facing at home.
Finally, you can support the organizations working on the front lines of domestic violence every day to help people break the cycle of abuse in their life. Calgary has a dedicated community of not-for-profit organizations that need financial support, volunteers and champions.
Change is possible. Whether you are affected by abuse, are responsible for it or are not involved at all, we all have a role to play in changing Calgary’s domestic violence statistics.
Where to get support in Calgary
If you are experiencing abuse or have questions about domestic abuse, call 403-234-7233 (SAFE). If you are experiencing or have questions about sexual assault, call 403-237-5888. To report domestic violence, call the Calgary Police Service at 403-266-1234, or 9-1-1 if someone is in immediate danger.
To learn more about the issue domestic violence in Calgary, please visit I want to end domestic violence.
Acting Deputy Chief Cliff O’Brien has been with the Calgary Police Service for over 20 years, working in a variety of capacities, including an investigator in a General Investigations Unit, a Detective in the Robbery and Homicide Units, and an Inspector in the Chief’s Office, amongst others. He is now responsible for the part of the Service that works with community partners to address addiction, exploitation, domestic conflict, and prolific offenders. His service also includes helping youth and building relationships with diverse communities throughout Calgary.