Incompetent? Really?

December 8, 2009

CBC News – British Columbia – Jeweller who shot robber wants more gun rights.

The linked news article contains a story by the CBC about a jeweller named Dennis Galloway from Port Alberni, B.C. who used a 9-mm Beretta handgun when a robber and an accomplice entered his store, firing his entire magazine at the fleeing robber and hitting him five times in the shoulder and torso and eventually paralyzing him from the waist down.

But let’s leave aside the issue of gun rights, which is such a thorny problem that I really don’t want to end up in a discussion of it.  What I would like to discuss is the statements made by Galloway and others in the article about the gross incompetence of the police and the rampant crime in Canada.  Statements like:

“The police can’t control the crime anymore,” Dennis Galloway said. “The government isn’t controlling it anymore. We are relying on the politicians and the RCMP to take care of us — and we should all be responsible for our own safety and security.”

and some random bystander:

She agrees with Galloway on one point, however: the RCMP and the justice system in Canada are ineffective.

“Our law enforcement services are incompetent,” she said.

and Galloway again:

“I wish it had never come to this. The violence is escalating. In Canada, we don’t want that, but it’s here. And that’s scary. What do you do? Do you just lie down and let the criminals run the country?”

And here I thought that crime rates in Canada had been holding steady or declining for the last decade or so (at least).  Well, hey, I’m a scientist, and I like data.  Maybe I could find some?  But I’m sure that would be really difficult, and much harder than typing, say, “Canadian crime statistics” into Google… right?
Huh.  Will you look at that?  From Stats Canada, on the release of the 2008 Police-reported crime statistics figures (July 21st, 2009):

This was the fifth consecutive annual decline in police-reported crime. There were about 77,000 fewer reported crimes in 2008, including 28,000 fewer thefts of $5,000 and under, 22,000 fewer break-ins and 20,000 fewer motor vehicle thefts.

 Police-reported crime rate and Crime Severity Index, Canada

Crime severity was down in virtually all provinces. The largest decline was reported in Manitoba, where the Police-reported Crime Severity Index (PRCSI) was down 14%. The one notable exception was a 7% increase in the PRCSI in Prince Edward Island.

Note, of course, that this is the Police-Reported Crime Statistics.  This is important because criminologists are careful to point out that there is a “dark figure of crime”, which is the gap between the reported number of crimes and the actual number of crimes.

However, even if you believe that the PRCS figures are bunk, you would need an actual argument to back that up, and not just a “gee, the police are incompetent” blanket statement that tars the entire Canadian law enforcement community with a brush that they simply do not deserve.  Now, to be sure, the actual issue is more complex than even I’ve let on here.  For example, the statements by Galloway and bystanders might be more relevant if they were to complain about the local crime rate in Port Alberni, which does seem relatively high from the little information I could find on it with a casual search (e.g. this from UBC).  But I cannot abide sweeping statements that deride the police forces that (for better or for worse) try to keep us safe without even a shred of knowledge or effort behind them.

And the CBC’s response to these rants?  A single quote by the RCMP officer they interviewed by this story, stuck in as the last line:

Oumilouski said the force is working on the problem.

“And time is on our side. Our conviction rate is going up and our crime rates are going down.”

Really, truly, they are.

(Oh, and for a laugh, check out the comments).


Canada’s crime rate drops for 3rd straight year: StatsCan

July 18, 2008

Here’s good news for Canada:  Canada’s crime rate drops for 3rd straight year: StatsCan.

Canada’s national crime rate declined for the third straight year in 2007, according to Statistics Canada, which attributed the drop largely to a decrease in counterfeiting and property offences such as break-ins and vehicle thefts.

StatsCan data released Thursday shows a seven per cent drop in the national crime rate, which the agency said also stems from fewer serious violent offences like homicides, attempted murders, sexual assaults and robberies.

The overall crime rate has been on a general rate of decline since peaking in 1991, according to StatsCan data. In 2007, police reported 594 homicides, down slightly from 606 in 2006, following a long-term downward trend that began in the mid-1970s.

Criminologists are well aware of the difference between the perception of crime rates and the actual crime rates.  When sensational news stories like the Robert Pickton trial show up, people remember the sensational events and estimate crime rates out of proportion to their actual occurance (psychologists also have a lot to say about this effect).  So it’s important that stories like this get their fair day in the sun to bring some balance to the problem:  terrible crimes do occur, but it is the truth that they are occuring less often than they used to.  This occurs all over the place:  despite the tenacious perception of New York as a terribly dangerous place to be, it is actually one of the safest cities in the United States.

Actually, this ties in with another misperception that surprised me when I learned the truth:  globally, war has undergone a shocking decline in the last decade or so.  The link is to the Human Security Report 2005, and I suggest you click around and take a look to convince yourself because there’s too much for me to summarize here.  It really opened my eyes to the difference between how I thought the world was and how it really is.  Good reading is also to be had from the related Human Security Brief, which details the drop in global terrorism around the world.

All in all, the world is not a paradise, but the common perception of doom and gloom may not be nearly as justified as you might think.

Update: Via the Montreal city weblog, I hear that people in Montréal are making my point for me.