Monday, February 28, 2011

More crime rate surprises, Part II

For anyone who wants to dig a big deeper into the crime stats I mentioned in my last blog post/Globe article, here's the background data.
Crime has been going down, across Canada and in most categories, since the 1990s. However, if you take a longer historical perspective, our current crime rates are actually quite high.
Statscan has been compiling the crime rate (measured as crimes per 100,000 people) and violent crime since the early 1960s. What's more, to allow for comparisons over time, such as I made in my article, Statscan makes adjustments to the historical data to account for the introduction of new crimes, or the movement of some crimes from the non-violent category to the violent category.

Here's the crime rate, 1962-2007, as calculated by Statscan.


Crime is "falling", but it's falling from a historically very high level. And it's nowhere near back to the low levels that were once the norm. It's sort of like unemployment in Canada, circa 2011: falling, but still historically high.

The crime rate -- what Statscan calls the "total criminal code (excluding traffic) crime rate" went from 2,771 per 100,000 in 1962 to a peak of 10,342 in 1991. It then fell, as this chart shows, to 6,899 in 2007. I called Statscan and got the updated numbers: crime rate has continued to fall over past two years, and in 2009 the rate was 6,406.

In other words, the crime rate in Canada roughly quadrupled between 1962 and 1991. And then it fell by 40%. But even after than fall, Canada's crime rate is more than double what it was in 1962.

And violent crime? The story is worse.**


 In 1962, there were 221 violent crimes per 100,000. Violent crime climbed steadily until 1992, with the rate more than quadrupling to 1,084 per 100,000 in 1992. And then, violent crime started to fall, though not as sharply as non-violent crime. By 2009, Canada experienced 1,314 violent crimes per 100,000 -- but to allow for the changes in the definition and measurement of crime that have take place since 1962, Statscan adjusts that figure to a 2009 violent crime rate of 920 per 100,000.

In other words, even adjusting for changes in the law and improvements in record-keeping by law enforcement, Canada's violent crime rate is up 316% since 1962.

Another thing I looked at: murder rates, Canada vs. the US. This was a big surprise to me. I knew that crime had been falling sharply since the early 1990s in the US, and that all US big cities were experiencing remarkably reduced murder rates. New York City, for example, has seen its murder rate fall by about 80%. What I hadn't counted on was that US murder rates could have fallen so far, so fast, that many US cities are now safer than the least safe Canadian cities -- all of which are in Western Canada.


For Canadian murder rates, see Statscan's annual tally in each of Canada's census metropolitan areas (CMAs), here:

For comparable US figures, I used the FBI crime database, and looked at what the US calls Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which like Canada's CMAs include both the city and its suburbs. (And in the case of really big cities, the exburbs too).

The results are kind of shocking. Go through the US database for yourself. Almost every US city in the Northwestern US states -- scores of communities in 11 states, in a band stretching from Wisconsin/Minnesota/Iowa to Washington/Oregon -- has a lower murder rate that Winnipeg, Edmonton or Vancouver. Urban Western Canada is, if we take murder as our measure, more dangerous than the urban Northwestern US states.

This data upends a few stereotypes and shoots a few sacred cows. The lawless American West? The peaceable land North of 49, kept safe by Sam Steele and his Mountie friends? Not exactly. Not anymore.

One final note, which I didn't have a chance go get into in my Globe article: crime rates in Western Canada are double those Ontario and Quebec -- but crime in the North is off the charts. According to Statscan's annual Crime Severity Index, the most violent jurisdiction, Nunavut, had 11 times as much violent crime as the safest place, Prince Edward Island.

** Correction: In original version I had accidentally attached the wrong table. That's been fixed.

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