Prime Time Crime

 

(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of July 29, 2008)

 
Much ado about nothing

 

  By John Martin

With the possible exception of poverty numbers, no single statistic is more misleading and prone to misuse than the so-called crime rate.  Every year about this time Statistics Canada releases the latest crime figures and the war of words resumes.

A few decades ago the crime rate was rising steadily and the experts; academics, activists and politicians, assured us thereís nothing to worry about and itís all just a function of an over zealous media fanning the flames of fear to sell papers and attract viewers. We were then subjected to endless treatises explaining how the official crime rate is not a genuine indicator of actual criminality at all and thereís no reason to panic or over react.

My, my how things change. The official numbers now show that overall crime is decreasing but apparently this time itís not a misnomer or a figment of our imagination. Rather, its irrefutable evidence that everything is fine and thereís no need for Stephen Harperís government to continue pursuing a "get tough on crime" agenda. Rather than cracking down and incarcerating more hard-core offenders, it seems we should be tearing down prisons and letting more criminals serve their sentences at home.

We all know that official statistics are prone to error, manipulation and misinterpretation. But this latest round of anti-punishment hysteria is particularly nauseating. It reminds one of, what is quite possibly, the most ridiculous news headline in modern times. It happened in 1997 in New York City. Crime had been out of control and the mayor, Rudy Giuliani, embarked on an ambitious crackdown that saw crime plummet. Chief among the apologists and appeasers for the criminal class was the New York Times with the stunning editorial, "Crime keeps on falling, but prisons keep on filling."

So opposed to any initiative that would inconvenience thieves, drug dealers and a host of other unfortunate souls, the New York Times couldnít even contemplate the possibility that taking criminals off the street might have had something to do with one of the most dramatic urban cleanups ever witnessed.

Canada has for so long adopted and practiced a kid glove approach toward crime that the notion of playing hardball is a concept many Canadians, particularly the liberal elite and chattering classes, simply cannot even fathom. Former B.C. attorney-general and now federal Liberal lap dog, Ujjal Dosanjh, in response to the governmentís crime policies pathetically stated, "What this government is trying to do is actually take us down the U.S. route." Many are of a similar mind and are convinced that a concentrated effort to crack down on crime is a barbaric American concept that has no place in Canada. And now they recklessly cite the latest crime figures as evidence that thereís nothing to be concerned about.

The crime rate is a piece of information that can be helpful in trying to understand overall crime patterns. Taken by itself though, it is meaningless. Every day, tens of thousands of drug transactions take place in B.C. alone that are not detected and go unreported in the official crime rate. Only a desperate ideologue would take comfort in the official crime rate numbers and use them as fodder to attack the governmentís public safety initiatives. These reforms are completely reasonable and moderate, despite the hyperbole and feigned outrage by the likes of Dosanjh.

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

 

Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008