“Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it.”
— Henry Thomas Buckle
(1872-1970), English historian
Whenever something happens and the police issue a warning to women not to walk alone after dark, I resent the fact that I’m an adult and I need an escort.
But it’s a warning I heed, because the truth is I don’t feel safe walking alone at night. I’ve done it, mind you, many times. But that was years ago, and our city has changed.
Like many places that undergo a sudden reversal of fortune because of industry — in this case, the oil off our shores — St. John’s has undergone a rapid transformation.
Increased incomes for those employed by Big Oil or its spinoffs drive the demand for higher-end retail stores, restaurants and accommodations, and those on low or fixed incomes feel squeezed out of their own communities, or at least pushed to the margins.
For those folks, rents and the cost of living are too high and home ownership is nothing but a pipe dream.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Big money also creates an expanded market for drugs. And it can drive people who can’t get by on a job that pays $10 an hour to pursue more lucrative — though illegal — ways of making money.
In short, boom time means more crime.
It’s not just in our metro area, of course. Just ask the people in North Dakota.
Here’s a snippet from the website of the Catskill Mountaineer, an advocacy group for the Catskills region:
“Shale gas development is dramatically denigrating the way of life in communities across the country. It is putting strain on local infrastructures, bringing increased crime and drug use and adding burdens to law enforcement and local social services. Towns like Williston, N.D. have seen cases of theft, violence, abduction, sex crimes and domestic abuse triple.
“In some towns, inflationary pressures are making rents unaffordable for longtime residents, particularly affecting seniors on fixed incomes. Throughout the nation, communities are losing the close-knit character of their small towns.”
The end of innocence
It wasn’t too long ago when you’d be shocked to hear of a purse snatching, of someone being sexually assaulted by a stranger, or of random stabbings. Those days are gone.
Break-ins and armed robberies are practically an everyday occurrence now. Some people have had their homes broken into multiple times — despite having alarm systems — often by people looking for things to sell for quick cash as they struggle with addictions. Not every person with an addiction is a thief, but desperation can drive people to do desperate things.
The same story is unfolding in many places where a sudden rush of cash has resulted in population growth and a whole host of activities that feed off increased wealth.
As The Washington Times’ Matthew Brown reported on April 23 from Glasgow, Montana: “Booming oil production across a wide expanse of the Northern Plains is forcing law enforcement from the U.S. and Canada to gird for a spike in crimes ranging from drug trafficking and gun offenses to prostitution.”
The Bakken oil fields that straddle Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan are expected to attract 30,000 workers, and law-enforcement officers and the justice system are grappling with how to prepare for the crime wave that is sure to result.
Hoping to get rich quick
In September, The Leader-Post’s Barb Pacholik tackled the issue in an article about how new wealth has affected southeastern Saskatchewan:
“(T)he glow of prosperity also casts a shadow — more people and more money inevitably add up to more problems for police. There’s a criminal element also looking to capitalize on the economic boom. Out-of-province gangs have shown up. Big-city problems like prostitution have gained a foothold. The troubles of drugs and too much booze are amplified by a young, mobile workforce with plenty of disposable income.”
In the St. John’s metro region, we’ve got big-city problems, too: rampant addictions, prostitution, violent crimes, more knives and guns on the street. In a crime survey The Telegram conducted recently, you told us you were worried about things like drug activity, sexual assault and home invasions.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and be fearful, in part because we hear so much more news these days, thanks to the Internet and social media. As I write this, the big crime story in the news is the trial of a man charged in a double stabbing, where one victim died. It’s difficult to fathom that it happened in Paradise and not in a much larger centre, somewhere else.
Our society has to acknowledge that prosperity has a downside — the disenfranchised become more so and, for some, crime seems the only route to affluence. People who are already disadvantaged face even more challenges as the cost of food, heat and shelter rises.
We need to develop strategies that address the root causes of criminal behaviour rather than just addressing the consequences of crimes and meting out punishment after they have occurred. Get tough on crime? Better yet, get tough on disparity.
We need to find a way to show young people that there are better paths to take, and help them take those paths, rather than the road that leads to danger, drugs and despair.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at