The Volume and Severity of Crime is Decreasing

Despite the efforts of some interest groups to convince us that crime rates in Canada are getting worse, the data suggest otherwise. For the last year in which complete national crime rate data is available (2007), Statistics Canada reports the following:

  • The 2007 national crime rate reached its lowest point in 30 years. Canadian police services reported a 7% decline in crime, the third consecutive annual decrease.
  • The property crime rate
    dropped by 8% and reached its lowest point since 1969. Break and enters were at their lowest level in 40 years, dropping by 9% in 2007. Likewise, motor vehicle thefts declined by 9%.
  • The violent crime rate fell by 3%, marking its lowest point since 1989. Following increases in most serious violent crimes over the past two years, the 2007 rates of homicide, attempted murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and abduction declined or remained stable.
  • The youth crime rate dropped by 2% in 2007, following a 3% increase in 2006. Violent crimes committed by youth remained stable, while declines were seen in most non-violent offences.
  • Police reported 594 homicides in Canada during 2007, 12 fewer than the previous year, resulting in a 3% decrease in the homicide rate (1.80 homicides per 100,000 population). This is the second consecutive decline in the homicide rate and continues the long-term downward trend from its peak in 1975.
  • Canadians are about four times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident and about six times more likely to commit suicide than they are to be a victim of a homicide. Canada’s homicide rate continues to be about one-third that of the United States, but comparable to Australia, New Zealand and many European nations.

Not only are crime rates declining overall, but the severity of offences are decreasing. Statistics Canada has developed a new method for calculating the severity of crime after consulting with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. The index is "designed to measure change in the overall seriousness of crime from one year to the next, as well as relative differences in the seriousness of crime across the country" (p. 6). The measure takes into account changes in volume of crimes and its relative seriousness compared to other crimes. Stats Canada reports:

Comparisons between the overall crime rate and the Crime Severity Index between 1998 and 2007 provide interesting insights into trends in overall police-reported crime … During that period, the crime rate decreased by 15%, while the Crime Severity Index dropped even further (21%). It should be noted that while drugs, traffic offences and Federal Statutes are all excluded from the traditional crime rate, they are included in the Crime Severity Index.

We need to be skeptical of the media and how it reports on crime. (On this topic, see Dan Gardner’s new book, Risk Society: The Science and Politics of Fear). Rob Nicholson, the federal Justice Minister, fans the flames of fear almost every time he opens his mouth to talk about crime. Although the Tories claim to be "tackling crime to build a stronger, safer, better Canada", they are at a loss to explain why crime rates are decreasing without their draconian, get-tough-on-crime policies.

Sources:

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