Criminal matters

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Irish comedian Dara O’Briain summarizes the “fear of crime” conundrum quite well. That’s where people say crime is going up, and you say it’s going down, and they say, yes, but the fear of crime is going up.

“So what?” says O’Briain. “Zombies are at an all-time low level, but the fear of zombies could be high. It doesn’t mean we have to have government policies to deal with the fear of zombies.”

Cute. But few of us are really worried about a zombie apocalypse. Real crime, on the other hand, is a tangible threat. Every day, it seems, brings a new roster of robbery, assault and battery.

The question is, are things actually worse?

It’s not unusual for there to be a disconnect between public perception and actual crime rates.

The Harper government capitalized on the fear factor in its new crime bill — legislation that will cost provinces millions for new prisons and infrastructure in a country where the crime rate is actually falling.

People’s own experiences, as well as the way crimes are reported in the local media, can influence the public psyche. So can tales of inadequate police response and lenient courts — whether real or perceived.

Starting today, in a three-part series called Criminal Matters, Telegram reporters Barb Sweet and Andrew Robinson delve into an online survey conducted by The Telegram, asking readers whether they feel safe in their homes and in their communities.

Results were mixed. About a quarter of those who chose to participate said they definitely did not feel safe in their own neighbourhoods. At least a third said they did.

The poll is not scientific. But comments on The Telegram website revealed a wide range of concerns about safety.

Said one senior, “I feel very unsafe in my (neighbourhood). You can tell me to move all you want, but if you cannot afford it, you just have to stay where you are. No sufficient money, no options.”

“This is not the St. John’s I grew up in,” wrote a couple with a nine-year-old daughter. “When I was nine, I’d walk to and from school. … I’d walk to and from hockey games. In summer, I was permitted to leave our neighbourhood and travel to my grandmother’s house by bicycle. Today, my daughter doesn’t go to the store unattended.”

In today’s edition, reporter Barb Sweet looks at the results of The Telegram’s online poll, and further explores local attitudes about crime. In The Weekend edition, coverage will focus more on actual crime statistics and what they mean.

And on Monday, Andrew Robinson delves into the province’s justice system.

Crime can disrupt our lives in a big way, but it doesn’t have to rule us. The best way to address the issue is through frank talk and honest analysis.

It may not make you feel more safe. But it may help you feel a little more informed.

Organizations: The Telegram

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