Prime Time Crime  


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of July 31, 2007)

Official Crime Rate numbers less than helpful


  By John Martin

Several years ago I was driving in the Lower Mainland during a torrential downfall.  I was listening to the news and approaching the actual studios where the radio station was located.  The news finished and the weather guy came on to announce that the forecast was for continuing clouds with a chance of rain later in the evening.

It was pouring.  Even with the windshield wipers flapping away on the fastest setting, I could barely make out the landscape.  This was a classic, miserable, West Coast, heavy rainfall.  As I drove by the station I wanted to pull over and yell, “Take a look out the window, you big dummy.”

So here we have the broadcaster with the latest weather update from Environment Canada in his hand.  And it reads something very different from what I was encountering.  Very few people would argue that the official weather report broadcast on my radio was accurate.

I was reminded of this incident when Statistics Canada recently released the latest crime rate figures.  According to the numbers, crime continues to decrease with an overall 3% drop in 2006.

But it would be difficult to locate too many people who would agree with this finding.  Numerous surveys report that citizens are more fearful of crime than in previous years.  Swarmings of innocent bystanders awaiting public transit are reported on a near daily basis.  Gang related gunfire is becoming an all too common occurrence.  We all know people who have had their vehicles and homes broken into or have personally gone through the experience ourselves.  We hear how the police are busier than they’ve ever been and the courts are hopelessly backlogged. 

Yet, according to the official statistics, everything’s fine and there’s nothing to worry about.

Academics, who routinely offer up convincing evidence that a high level of education does not necessarily equate with being bright or informed, continue to argue that people have an unrealistic fear of crime due to the media’s fascination of covering the most violent offences in minute, grisly detail.  And they are pointing with glee to the latest crime statistics as though the numbers prove how gullible and misled the public is. 

Yet, a closer examination of the numbers proves nothing of the sort.  Violent crime has increased dramatically in the last decade.  Even though official statistics only offer a snapshot of what’s going on, the trend is quite clear; serious assaults are rising and the trend is likely to continue.  But these increases are officially nullified by decreases in the number of reported property crimes.  Consequently, the overall crime rate is said to be decreasing.

And keep in mind; this is happening at a time when we keep hearing about the aging of Canada’s population.  There are now fewer young males, the group most likely to be involved in criminality, than at any other time.  Yet violent offences among young people continue to climb.  In particular, youth rates for assault, robbery and homicide all increased.

Maybe, just like that guy who was reading a weather forecast that was completely at odds with what was actually happening, the people who keep telling us crime is decreasing need to take a look out the window from time to time.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

Prime Time Crime

Contributing Writers