Fear factor

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Just before 11 p.m. Tuesday, police in St. John’s received a report of a sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl right in their own backyard — in The Rooms parking lot off Bonaventure Avenue.

Within 24 hours, they had a suspect in custody.

Gerald Edmund Pike, 45, of St. John's is charged with two counts of sexual assault, theft under $5,000 for allegedly stealing property from the girl, and one count of breaching probation.

When news like this hits, people sit up and take notice. Is it safe to walk the streets at night, or even during the day? Are there enough police on the beat? Is the justice system effective enough to curb these sorts of attacks?

St. John’s is not the city it was in December 1981 when a 14-year-old girl named Dana Bradley was last seen getting into a car on Topsail Road. Dana’s body was found four days later off Maddox Cove Road; her murder has never been solved.

The Dana Bradley case was something of a watershed. Murders were rare, and the public was gripped by the thought of a young teenager being lured off the streets in broad daylight and slain.

These days, it’s not uncommon to have two, three or four murder trials in one year. Robbery and assault seems almost commonplace.

Familiarity doesn’t make such crimes any less jarring. Nonetheless, citizens of St. John’s still like to think of the city as a safe place to be.

That’s the picture drawn by an expansive MQO Research poll of 400 residents of St. John’s and surrounding communities.

The survey, being explored this week in a Telegram series called MetroView, found people are mostly carefree about walking in the downtown core — as long as the sun is up.

While 84 per cent thought the downtown was mostly or very safe, 38 per cent felt not safe or not safe at all walking alone at night there. For women, the latter number rises to 49 per cent.

When it comes to policing, however, only about half the residents surveyed felt the authorities were doing a good job. A further 25 per cent gave the police a grade of 7 out of 10.

For today’s Telegram, Steve Bartlett asked people who work and live in the downtown area what they think about safety, as well as about amenities and revitalization. (Eighty-six per cent of MQO survey respondents felt revitalization was important or very important.)

Among those with interesting points of view: Haunted Hike host Dale Jarvis, Michael O’Brien of O’Brien’s Music Store and city councillor Sheilagh O’Leary.

Meanwhile, reporter Barb Sweet takes a broader look at crime and policing in the metro region.

Organizations: MQO Research, Music Store

Geographic location: St. John's, Topsail Road, Maddox Cove Road

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