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Victoria's 'cops with lollipops' idea sticks

Dec 23 2011

Rowdy revellers beware, the "lollicops" could be watching you this holiday season.

In a move made popular by the city of Victoria, a growing number of municipalities in Canada are dishing out sweet treats — from lollipops to hot chocolate — as a way to calm drunken bar and club patrons and prevent fights.

While the experiment has been derided on some online message boards as farcical, authorities say it's a way to engage the public in a non-threatening manner and, anecdotally at least, has had the effect of controlling public disorder.

Victoria Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe heard of lollipops being given out elsewhere and brought the idea to town for Canada Day this year. "In all my years on council, this was the most media attention I've ever had," said Thornton-Joe, who was interviewed by reporters from across Canada, as well as the U.S., Brazil and Chile.

The city will hand out candy at taxi stands leading up to New Year's Eve, said Thornton-Joe.

"It's one of those things where it's not a solution to behaviour, it's not something that I think would work every weekend, but it was sort of a fun idea that, personally, I saw change behaviour. We'll definitely do it again on Canada Day and then sporadically throughout the year."

Bart Hruda, business development manager at the Sugar Mountain Confectionary Co. in Ottawa, said it makes sense. "There's something magical about candy. It's fun," he said. "How can you be mad if there's a smile on your face?"

Police in Guelph, Ont., started handing out lollipops to revellers at Halloween and plan to do so again during other big events. "Not too many people expect us pulling a lollipop out of our pockets," said Deputy Chief Bryan Larkin. "If we can find different ways to solve issues rather than through tickets or arrests, it's better."

Guelph city councillor Ian Findlay pitched the concept after reading about how police in Victoria handed out thousands of lollipops during Canada Day celebrations.

He said he was drawn to the idea because it gets patrol officers out of their squad cars and engaging the public in a "less confrontational" manner. Plus, if people are busy sucking on lollipops, they're less inclined to be mouthing off. "You put it in your mouth, you tend not to yell and hoot and holler," he said.

In Edmonton, revellers have been handed lollipops and glow-in-the-dark necklaces as they spill out of bars. In January, they will be given hot chocolate.

Angela Turner, program manager for Responsible Hospitality Edmonton, said it allows city staff to tell people where to catch cabs and to politely remind people to keep the noise down.

Police forces across Britain have been issuing hard candy as a way to pacify booze-fuelled hooligans for years.

The move became the target of some ridicule on Internet message boards. "This quite possibly takes the biscuit as one of the most idiotic uses of money ever," one person wrote on the Daily Mail website.

Kathryn Graham, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in London, Ont., who has spent years studying bar violence, said if police are reporting positive effects from these candy experiments, it probably has less to do with the sugar rush and more to do with the police presence and their approach.

Her research has shown that when bar staff confront customers in an aggressive manner, it escalates the unwanted behaviour. So if police approach patrons in a non-threatening manner that is a better approach, she said.

"This is a nice way to say we're here, we don't want trouble from you."

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