Intentionally or not, the media sensationalizes violent and rare criminal offences committed against strangers.
Gang violence, random shootings and stabbings, homicides, robberies and serious sexual offences are the most commonly reported on crime events. The geographic areas where these types of crimes are most likely to occur and thus be reported on are in inner-city neighbourhoods.
As a result, the general public tends to hold the perception that violent crimes are increasing throughout the inner city or the broader attitude that crime in general is increasing. Unfortunately, media representation of crime usually fails to coincide with actual crime statistics.
In the latest crime rate information from Statistics Canada, it was found that both the crime rate and the seriousness of crime decreased in 2009. The volume of crime fell three per cent and was 17 per cent lower than a decade ago, and the severity of crime declined four per cent and was 22 per cent lower than in 1999.
A drop in crime rates has been a consistent pattern throughout the past decade.
However, a poll published last January by Angus Reid about Canadians’ perceptions about crime found that the fear of crime among citizens was increasing.
More people perceived their communities to be unsafe, and about 50 per cent of respondents believed that the prevalence and severity of violent crimes were steadily rising.
There is clearly a disconnect between perceptions of crime and the actual crime statistics.
The fact that more crime tends to occur in areas of concentrated disadvantage such as the inner city does not necessarily mean that these communities are more violent.
Although urban areas are often characterized by high rates of poverty, unemployment rates, substance abuse issues and domestic conflict/violence – all contributing factors to crime – recent statistics from Winnipeg CrimeStat indicate there is less crime in these areas than one might expect there to be, given the emphasis on violent crime by the media.
In Winnipeg’s downtown area (comparing the years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011), many offences decreased, including break and enters, homicides and shootings.
Motor vehicle thefts saw a substantial decrease of 44 per cent, largely as a result of the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy operated by the Winnipeg Police Service.
Furthermore, this suppression strategy has helped cut Winnipeg’s car theft rate by 70 per cent since 2005.
While sexual assaults increased by 32 per cent, the overall crime rate in downtown Winnipeg declined by 13 per cent during the comparison years.
Similar trends in crime were observed when examining the rates of crime city-wide.
Overall, there were 37 per cent fewer shootings and 36 per cent fewer motor vehicle thefts. The homicide rates generally remained stable.
The general public tends to overestimate the proportion of violent crime relative to actual crime rates.
Overall, public perception does not correspond to actual levels of crime in Winnipeg.
Brittany Thiessen is the communications officer for the University of Winnipeg Criminal Justice Students’ Association.
This is part of the Crime in Winnipeg feature. Its companion pieces are “Crime in the media, crime in real life” by Chris Hunter (http://uniter.ca/view/6249/) and “Police forced to play too large a role in mental health services” by Nicole Chammartin (http://uniter.ca/view/6252/) .
Published in Volume 65, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 31, 2011)