Sunday, August 8, 2010

Profile of Crime

Watching the news lately is an endless role-call of crime stories in print, radio and television. Alas, the news has always focused more on the bad than good but it would appear that violent crime is up in Winnipeg and Manitoba and the statistics bear it out.

If we are to believe Stockwell Day, the crime stats are even worse because of unreported crime. It was his excuse for building even more prisons purportedly to hold these unreported criminals.

There has always been debate about what is the root of crime. Such discussions takes place in great depth at universities. The government itself has studied the issue and polled Canadians on the subject.

Overall, Canadians view social problems as being the primary cause of crime (Table 2). The 1998 Environics survey indicates that 64% of respondents attribute crime to poor parenting and broken homes, and 63% attribute it to illegal drug availability. Another 53% cite a soft justice system as being responsible, 52% cite poverty, 51% cite low moral standards, 50% cite unemployment, 49% cite violence on television, and 48% cite lack of discipline in schools. Interestingly, although they identify social problems as a cause of crime, a small percentage of respondents also mention lack of childcare and family services (28%). Twenty-six percent of respondents cite insufficient police as a primary cause of crime.

There have also been attempts to looks at those who commit crimes, especially young people. Not surprisingly, only a very small percentage of youth are involved in crime.

So who are the criminals in Winnipeg? The top 10 wanted in the city of Winnipeg vary in age and crime. Most have arrest records. Most have breached the conditions of their release or have eluded police. To make it to the top 10 usually indicates some violence in past crimes was committed.

There is no public top 10 list for youth crime except for something the police might work with. This is a listing of the top crimes for youth as of 1998-1999.

Total number of cases Percent

Theft under $5,000 15,801 15%
Possession of stolen property 5,208 5%
Failure to appear 11,597 11%
Failure to comply with a disposition 13,072 12%
Subtotal 45,678 43%
Other thefts 4,975 5%
Mischief/damage 5,336 5%
Break and enter 12,251 11%
Minor assault 10,545 10%
Total: Sum of eight offences 78,785 74%
All cases 106,665 100%

The biggest percentages are in failures to comply with other court ordered dates or promises to appear.

Manitoba has the worst youth crime in Canada.

Manitoba has the distinction of bucking the national trends on crime reduction.

So why Manitoba? Well, the answers are varied but some of it can be tracked to fetal alcohol syndrome being very high in the province, high incidents of poor parenting, single parenting, poverty, peer pressures and gang organization, lack of programming and monitoring of youth at risk, issues in terms of policing and enforcing breaches in parole and court orders, failure to track and keep proper records of criminals that can be used in court or by police, lack of sharing by social services, police and the courts on crime activity and prevention and lastly, rehabilitation in prisons and when offenders return to the community.

The Manitoba and Canadian governments have put new money and changed laws regarding crime and enforcement. More police, new prisons and a whole host of new laws are in place.

The fact of that matter is that Canada already puts more youth in detention than the U.S. does.

The youth incarceration rate is higher in Canada than other Western countries, including the United States.

Winnipeg has more officers per capita than many jurisdictions already.

And yet crime is on the rise.

Part of what is happening is that there is a vacuum created by the Hell's Angel's all being arrested and their organization broken. A violent fight in taking place for the drug trade. It is safe to say that demand has not been subdued.

The National Post has an interesting re-cap of crime related stories this week.

“Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t mean Canada would benefit from decriminalizing marijuana,” the Sun Media editorialists pronounce. Which is true. However, they use this observation to back up their commitment to the status quo. Which is baffling. What about all the other arguments for decriminalizing marijuana, for heaven’s sake? They point gravely at drug-impaired driving deaths. OK, but what about alcohol-impaired driving deaths? Just because marijuana is illegal doesn’t mean Canada wouldn’t benefit from criminalizing alcohol. Right?

An honest discussion of the drug trade especially marijuana needs to take place in Canada. What is happening now is comparable to the worst violence of Prohibition.

The Canadian government has failed to address this and other issues such as prostitution and gambling.

Here is what the government wants to do:

The list of crimes now considered serious is worth a close look, especially in the context of Mr. Day’s concern about unreported crimes. They include:

- Keeping a common gaming or betting house;

- Betting, pool-selling and bookmaking;

- Keeping a common bawdy house;

- Trafficking in barbiturates and other chemical drugs;

- Trafficking in any quantity of cannabis;

- Importing, exporting, producing barbiturates.

Under the new get-tough regulations, keeping a common bawdy-house or selling a couple of ounces of marijuana will now bring maximum prison sentences of “at least” five years in prison. A low-level operator of a bawdy-house could also face five-year prison terms.

To be sure the jails might be filled to capacities not even seen in the U.S.

The Conservative bent now seems to be to criminalize and maximize penalties on a whole host of issues. They do this while arguing that Liberals and others are soft on crime.

It generally comes down to a divide that tries to make things black and white. It isn't.

The NDP in Manitoba has decided to follow the Conservative path federally with throwing the book at offenders. This is only part of the solution and it is why it will likely struggle to meet its goals. If the NDP had been working even harder over the last 10 years to reduce Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, we could have seen some major differences in crime. Looking at today's prison numbers and seeing how many FAS prisoners there are can certainly be an eye opener.

As far as the city of Winnipeg goes, the city has roughly the same amount of police that it had 10 years ago. It breaks up units to handle one crisis after another. Organized crime to car theft to arson strike force all seem to be built up only to falter because of lack of resources. The city would benefit strongly from continued support for units to do their jobs. Moreover, a safety audit of the city section by section could indicate more solutions than just more officers on the ground. For example, what if crime could be prevented with just better lighting and sight-lines in a park area?

It is funny that in the last days how many people are starting to question how we deal with crime and not all of it has been from the punishment aspect of things. It has to come from a variety of sources and produce and a variety of ideas. We have not seen that yet and that is why we have not seen a successful strategy to date.

It is interesting to note that some traditional conservative supporters are starting to question the hard line of the federal Tories into this massive expansion of crime enforcement and sentencing. The scare tactics alone of raising doubt about crime statistics means that government policy can be set based on perception rather than facts.

We need good information and intelligence on the subject of crime and the people involved in crime. Manitoba is suffering from a lack of this information and we move from crisis to crisis as a result.

It is going to be a long hot summer. One wonders if we are ever going to get it right.

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