Is the crime rate really going down???
Stats Canada misses the big picture...
In the Canadian Press news story on the latest crime statistics from StatsCan (for the 2009 year), the unnamed reporter sneers that the reported drops in crime “fly in the face of the federal Tory government’s fretting about crime.” And the information contained in the report seems, at first glance, to be worth celebrating: crime rates are down over the last decade; the “crime severity index” is down over the last decade; even “violent crime” is down.
Given the relentlessly atrocious reporting in Canada regarding criminal justice matters and crime statistics, it should come as no surprise that the news report did little beyond repeating the StatsCan press release. This is a shame, because a even a brief glance through the actual statistics should give reporters who are so inclined reason to temper their triumphalist commentary.
A few prefatory comments are in order. News reports about crime rates generally cite things like the “crime” rate, or even the “violent crime” rate, without drawing attention to the fact that these categories capture such an enormous range of activity that what is actually measured is not necessarily congruent with what readers might anticipate. For instance, the “violent crime” category is surprisingly large, encompassing things like “harassing phone calls.” Similarly, the “crime” rate includes things like “counterfeiting” – a serious crime, to be sure, but how many people fret about the possibility of being a victim of it?
When people (or politicians) express concerns about personal safety, are they worried about an accused criminal triggering a technical violation of the terms of their bail conditions, or are they worried about suffering from a home invasion or serious physical assault?
When we look at the trend in crime rates for the specific types of violent crime which we can assume stoke the most fear, the story becomes much less sunny than that perpetuated by uncurious reporters. In the 10-year period from 1999 to 2009, we see the following:
Homicide rate – up 2 per cent since 1999 Attempted murder – up 6 per cent since 1999 Aggravated assault (the most serious and injurious category) – up 30 per cent since 1999 Assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm – up 29 per cent since 1999 Forcible confinement or kidnapping – up 116 per cent since 1999 Child pornography – up 64 per cent since 2003
Set against the decline in the overall “violent crime” rate and the “violent crime severity index,” it is also disturbing to note that two particular areas are bucking the trend:
Youth violent crime rate – up nearly 11 per cent since 1999 Youth violent crime severity index – up nearly 10 per cent since 1999
So, yes, counterfeiting fell by nearly 60 per cent over the last ten years (hurrah!), and the incidence of threatening and harassing phone calls dropped by almost 35 per cent (woot!). For what it’s worth, these should be celebrated. But in light of the fact that the most serious forms of assault increased by nearly a third, and that the youth violent crime rate continues an inexorable climb upwards, the amount of comfort that should be taken from the decline in “crime,” writ large, should be small indeed.