Dropping crime

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The good news? There was less crime per capita happening in St. John’s last year. The bad news? Our crime rate is still among the highest in Canada.

That’s the gist of Statistics Canada’s 2013 crime data released Wednesday, based on police reports from across the country.

The total number of crimes reported in the St. John’s metro area for 2013 was 6,464 per population of 100,000, a three per cent decline from the previous year. (Several of the 32 other Canadian cities experienced double-digit drops.)

The main reason for the sluggish decline was that three homicides occurred in the city last year, compared to none the previous year. With such low absolute numbers, a single murder can significantly skew the results either way.

But rates for other types of crimes dropped dramatically.

Break-ins were down 25 per cent in the St. John’s metro area. Sexual assaults dropped by 21 per cent, and motor vehicle thefts and drug offences were both down by 19 per cent.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary credited better crime analysis and intelligence gathering, but also said public confidence helps them do their jobs better.

“It is our belief the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has the confidence of the community, and we encourage people to report crime,” they said in a statement.

It’s good news for this province — and even better news for the country, which saw an average drop of about nine per cent.

One thing it’s not, however, is a reflection of federal tough-on-crime legislation.

“The one thing that’s clear is this is a long-term trend and has nothing to do with any of the so-called crime policies of the government,” Toronto criminologist Anthony Doob told CBC last year, following a similar drop in crime.

In fact, the Canadian crime rate peaked in 1991, and has steadily decreased every year since 2003, long before Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced such measures as mandatory minimum sentencing.

In 2012, Doob joined Ontario legal eagles Roy McMurtry and Edward Greenspan to pen a stinging indictment of Harper’s tough-on-crime policies.

In particular, they highlighted the proven ineffectiveness of throwing people in jail over minor offences and making it more difficult to get pardons.

“Making it more difficult for people to get out from under the shadow of their much earlier offences … makes it harder for millions of Canadians with criminal records to reintegrate into society,” they wrote in the National Post.

Harper’s crime policy, they wrote, “tells us that the government is committed to ignoring evidence about crime, and does not care about whether our criminal-justice system is just and humane.”

So, do the police deserve a pat on the back for their part in lowering crime? Yes, they do. There are many other factors involved, such as changes in poverty and education policies, but police tactics and outreach efforts play a huge role.

Has new federal crime legislation played a part?

Not one iota.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, CBC

Geographic location: Toronto, Ontario

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