An Abbotsford Police initiative that involves sending Christmas cards featuring the chief in a Santa suit with a bullet-proof vest and assault rifle to prolific offenders is getting mixed reviews from experts.
The APD Christmas card shows Chief Bob Rich in the traditional red suit and white beard as well as body armour and a rifle with the question: "Which list will you be on . . . naughty or nice?"
The card then suggests that the recipient is "one choice away from changing your life," and encourages them to make a New Year's resolution to leave crime behind and provides an APD helpline number people can call.
APD is sending the greeting to prolific offenders, property offenders and persons known for drug and gang activity in Abbotsford as part of Operation Resolution, said Const. Ian MacDonald.
The cards are a reminder that the recipients have the opportunity to make different choices in life if they "resolve" to do so, said MacDonald.
The aim of the image on the card is to draw people's attention to the message and hopefully provoke reflection and change, he added.
"I don't know if a pastoral winter scape would have the same effect," said MacDonald.
Maggie Aronoff, executive director of the John Howard Society of the Fraser Valley which works to reintegrate offenders back into society, said the intent is great but the execution is questionable.
"The message on the card is great; it's just the picture that's the problem," said Aronoff, adding she appreciates the APD is trying to foster more positive interactions with offenders.
"I think the image is a little unfortunate. It might not get the results they intend.
"You've got a mixed message with a Santa with gun and bullet proof vest, I'm not sure who would reach out to that."
She also worried what children living with prolific offenders might take away from the card.
"Kids might view that. What kind of relationship with police is this setting up?"
Aronoff also expressed concerns the police had the resources and services in the community to meet the needs of offenders seeking help, especially when specialized agencies like John Howard were struggling to do similar work after suffering federal budget cuts.
"We've had a quarter of a million dollar reduction to our reintegration services. We'd like to be part of the network of service solutions . . . but who will the APD refer too?"
Irwin Cohen, director of criminology and criminal justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, commended the APD for trying to move beyond its traditional role of simply catching criminals.
"The messaging and what they are trying to do is important and there are potential positives, but is this the best way to reach out to chronic offenders, I'm not sure," said Cohen.
The Christmas card appears to be part of a broader, innovative strategy by APD to do more than tackle specific crimes but rather address the community's public safety, he said.
It's important the offenders also see police as part of a potential support network, he added.
"There may be some stumbling blocks in terms of execution but the notion is quite forward thinking," said Cohen.
"They are thinking, 'our only role isn't just to catch you and arrest you but be part of a larger solution'. It will be interesting to see how many phone calls they get."
The card's image wasn't meant to be contradictory or aggressive but simply has the chief hamming it up in a Santa suit to draw peoples' attention to the card, said MacDonald.
"It's not a red herring. It's a sincere appeal. We wouldn't set up a phone line for the purposes of the greeting card."