Prime Time Crime

 

(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of July 27, 2009)

 

Crime numbers donít add up

   

  By John Martin

 

Every year Statistics Canada releases its crime rate data and the number of murders and car thefts becomes the talk of the town. This time out, most of the attention was on Abbotsford-Mission receiving the dubious honour of being recognized as Canadaís murder capital. Nothing could be further from the truth though. Statistics Canada has a most selective way of lumping jurisdictions together and ignores those cities with populations less than 100,000 altogether when generating their crime numbers. Abbotsford wouldnít even be in the top ten if places like Prince George were thrown into the mix.

Overall though, as usual, the numbers tend to give the impression that crime is stable or to some degree decreasing. Many ignorantly use this data to suggest thereís no need to crack down on criminals with tougher sentences or hire more police.

But comparing the state of crime today with what was happening in the 70ís or 80ís is a complete waste of time. Things have changed so much in the last few decades but this is not reflected whatsoever in the official crime numbers.

For instance, we have an ever increasingly aging population. Never has the number of young males been a smaller proportion of the overall population. Realistically, almost every crime category should be a mere fraction of what it once was given the shrinking pool of potential offenders.

Medical procedures have also dramatically improved. Someone who might have died from a gunshot or knife wound in 1976 is now likely to have nothing more than some scar tissue to show his grandkids someday. Police dispatch procedures and 911 systems give authorities an opportunity to respond much quicker than the old days.

The proliferation of cell phones alone should have dramatically driven down the crime numbers. Instead of a witness yelling for someone to phone the police or scrambling to find a pay phone when something untoward is going on, most everyone now has the ability to instantly report suspicious behaviour.

Taken together, these and other social trends should have driven the crime rate to historic lows. But the fact the numbers still tend to be where they were a few decades ago is most troubling. It is quite irresponsible for commentators, academics and others to recklessly suggest that because the crime rate is relatively stable thereís no need to embark on criminal justice reform. Strategically, they conveniently ignore all of the above when citing the official crime rate trends and patterns.

If crime was no more a problem than it was thirty years ago then the official numbers should have taken a dramatic decrease due to changes in demographics alone.

Clearly, this isnít the case.

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 2009