For your consideration - Thom Barker

For your consideration - Thom Barker

‘Tis the season: Crime stats point to regional disparities

Northern municipalities overrepresented in rankings of highest crime severity indices

As a journalist, I’ve always loved the end of July because it’s when Statistics Canada (StatCan) releases the previous year’s crime stats.

I kind of cut my teeth in this business on crime when I accidentally stumbled on the fact that Smithers had the highest crime rate of any municipality in B.C. in 2004 and had had that dubious distinction for at least three years.

The series that came out of that discovery was a multiple award-winner for me.

The mayor of Smithers at the time, the now late-Jim Davidson, had a lot of beefs with the numbers. Most of our crime is petty crime; we’re a hub so much of our crime is imported; our police are more conscientious about reporting; crime rate is not a good measure of the overall safety of the town etc.

He was right about crime rate, that is the raw number of crimes committed per 100,000 population, not being the best indicator of the relative safety of a community. That is why StatCan switched to crime severity indices (CSI) in 2006.

It is a much better measure of the safety of communities because it ranks crimes by severity giving greater weight to more severe crimes, adds it all up and divides by population.

Unfortunately for municipal officials in Smithers, it didn’t change much in terms of rankings with the town consistently in the top 20 of the roughly 180 police jurisdictions in the province that report crime to StatCan.

In terms of general trends, western Canada is still worse than the east; the north is still worse than the south, rural areas are still worse than urban ones.

Smithers sees some pretty wild fluctuations sometimes and small-town officials sometimes complain about the data being skewed. And it is true that one particularly prolific thief one particularly heinous crime we don’t normally see much of (such as murder) could make the numbers jump significantly year over year.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about crime stats over the years, and while that may be true it doesn’t change the simple fact that it is the trends over time that are important.

Northern B.C. communities, including Smithers, are overrepresented in the rankings of the highest crime severity indices in B.C.

Western cities are overrepresented in the rankings of the highest crime severity indices in Canada.

Crime severity is generally pretty low in Canada by global standards.

It is these comparisons that matter and therefore whatever the problems might be with statistics, they are useful because if we’re ever going to solve the crime problem it will be by identifying why these regional disparities exist.

I suspect we are going to find out it is mostly about socioeconomics.