Crime · Halifax · Justice · Politics · Sociology · statistics · Urban Studies

Academic Crime-Fighting

My Facebook feed, Twitter and email were abuzz yesterday because of the story printed in the Herald about crime in Halifax,  fueled by newly released crime stats.  A great topic for an hot election summer.

There was confusion with how the statistics were being interpreted, some interpreting the stats as saying the crime in Halifax had increased, others as it had decreased.

But before we address what the statistics may mean, let’s first understand what the numbers represent.

The “Crime Rate”

The crime rate is based on the number of police-reported crimes.  These are called “actual incidents”, the number of cases that are put through the criminal justice system in a year.  The crime rate is calculated out of every 100,000 people, so the formula for calculating the crime rate is number of actual incidents/population.

It is important to note what the crime rate does not represent.  The crime rate does not represent the amount of criminal behaviour occurring in a community,  it does not represent the amount of victim-reported crime in a community, and it does not represent the amount of cases which result in a guilty charge.

What it does represent is the number of incidents that happen for every 100,000 people, which are actually assigned a file number, and processed by the Police Department at some level.

The Crime Severity Index

The Crime Severity Index is a quantitative expression of the severity of crime occurring in a community.

Quantitatively, severity is expressed through a process of statistical weighting, using proven models to assign numerical values to offenses making them more or less severe in the calculation of the index.  Stats Canada calls them “seriousness weights”  which “are derived from actual sentences handed down by courts in all provinces and territories. More serious crimes are assigned higher weights, less serious offences lower weights.”

To get an idea of how crimes are hierarchically organized for “seriousness”, click here.

The overall Crime Severity Index is also broken up into a Violent Crime Severity Index and a Non-Violent Crime Severity Index; applying the same process of weighting to those categorized as violent and non-violent crimes.

So now that it is clear just what we are talking about when we are looking at the numbers… let’s look at the overall numbers for Halifax.

  • There were 29,373 police-reported incidents, and 8,389 of those incidents were put through to the court
  • The police-reported crime rate in Halifax was 7199.26 offenses for every 100,000 people
  • There was a 10.3% decreased in the police-reported crime rate between 2010 and 2011
  • There was a 9% decrease in the Crime Severity Index for Halifax between 2010 and 2011

You’ll notice that all of these numbers indicate that police-reported crime in Halifax is actually decreasing.  So why then did the Herald headline scream that violent crime was up in the city?

Well aside from the fact that the Herald has a tendency to use hyperbole, particularly where the reporting of crime is involved, there was a 6% increase in the Violent Crime Severity Index for Halifax between 2010 and 2011… which means the seriousness of violent crimes in the city is up by 6%.  But this does not mean that more instances of violent crime are occurring.

We can find this out if we dig a little deeper into the data.  In 2011 there were 5,566 police-reported violent incidents making the violent crime rate in Halifax 1,364.22 offenses for every 100,000 people.  This was actually an 11.67% decrease in the police-reported violent crime rate between 2010 and 2011.

And digging even further into the data, we can see indications of what is driving the increase in the Violent Crime Index:  the rate of attempted murder was up by 11.03%, the rate of assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm was up by 13.53%; the rate of aggravated sexual assault was up by 48.54%; the homicide rate in Halifax was up by a whopping 62.04%;  and the rate of “other” violent violations was up by a 69.76%.

In the Non-Violent Crimes category, there was a 15.97% decrease in the Non-Violent Crime Severity Index for Halifax between 2010 and 2011, and the rates of property crime and other criminal code violations were down by 12.86% and 3.53% respectively.

Where we see significant decreases in the rates of non-violent crimes is in the rates of prostitution, with a decrease of 39.06%; rates of possession of stolen property decreased by 58.37%; and rates of break and enters decreasing by 23.97%.

The property and criminal code categories do have some areas of increased incidents: the rate of car theft is up by 2.23%;  and the rate of counterfeiting incidents is up by 85.68% (which pales in comparison to the 294.10% reported between 2009 and 2010).

On the drug front, there were 1606 police-report drug related incidents in Halifax in 2011, which was a 4.36% increase in the rate of drug crimes.  The rate of pot possession was up by 12.92%, but the rate of trafficking, production and distribution of pot was down by 19.10%. Further, possession of heroin and other controlled substances was up by 5.22% but the rate of trafficking, production and distribution was down by 18.75%.

So, to summarize this little picture of 2011 crime in Halifax I leave you with the following conclusion: Halifax is a safe city, despite the increase in the Violent Crime Severity Index and the screaming headlines, the city is seeing decreases in the # of actual incidents for many types of crimes.  I say this with the caveat that there are not huge discrepancies between police report incidents and victim reported incidents… but until we start aggregating victim-reported data, whether that discrepancy exists is unknowable.  It is also important to remember that the amount of incidents that result in charges is significantly smaller than the number of incidents themselves.  So, some of the incidents would have been cleared through Alternative Measures like Adult Diversion or Restorative Justice, or the charges dropped.  And finally, the fact that rates of drug possession are up, but rates of drug trafficking are down is disheartening.  Since trafficking is said to be fueling the violent crime in this city, it seems to me that targeting users is the wrong way to approach the problem.

In the very near future, the CCPA-NS will be releasing an Alternative Municipal Budget, which I have contributed to along the dimensions of public safety and policing.  Stay tuned for more exciting academic crime-fighting adventures… because really, when it comes to crime, understanding what you are dealing with is the first step to coordinating a strategic and effective response.

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