The October 22nd municipal election in Thunder Bay should start heating up as we move into the final four weeks of the campaign. There are indeed quite a few campaign signs sprouting up and in a sign that the race has intensified there is even some campaign sign vandalism. On the one hand, having a large number of candidates should make for an interesting race but on the other hand with so many candidates, any real debate is going to be unwieldy to manage and I expect the final outcomes will largely favour incumbents with name recognition. This means that despite what seems to be an enormous appetite for change, there will be very little come the day after October 22nd. Still, one would be remiss on not trying to highlight some of the issues.
In my August 8th post, I did a brief summary of what the main issue categories in the coming election should be and today I want to focus on one specific issue in particular – crime in Thunder Bay. There is a lot of social media discussion as well as media reporting on crime in Thunder Bay and also a lot of informal chatting among people and concerns have been expressed about what seems to be substantial drug driven gang activity. There are also statistics that measure crime and Statistics Canada has reported recently that Thunder Bay in 2017 leads Canadian cities in their murder rate for a second year in a row.
The police response to this news by the Acting Police Chief acknowledged the high homicide rate but the media report also noted that “Despite having the highest murder rate per capita for Canadian metropolitan areas and the second highest in terms of severe crimes, the overall crime rate in the city of Thunder Bay is down.” The response of the Acting Chief accentuated the positive with the comment that “"Those numbers are great to see," Hauth said. "I think it’s continued work internally and working with outside agencies. We’ve made great strides in terms of doing things in the community."”
So what do the numbers look like? Well, there are specific traditional crime rates for assorted offenses and incidents with the overall crime rate in terms of incidents per 100,000 of population actually down in 2017. There is also what is known as the crime severity index which uses a weighting method to account for both the number of crimes and their severity. There sometimes is confusion in media reports between the crime rate and the crime severity index and the confusion mounts if one goes up while another goes down. However, if one looks at longer term trends, both sets of number tell a similar story. Crime overall has come down in Thunder Bay over the last 15 years, but certain types of crime have actually gone up. In particular, violent crime and homicides in particular.
In the case of Thunder Bay, the overall crime rate in 2017 declined from 6,771 incidents per 100,000 in 2016 to 6,576 incidents per 100,000 – a drop of 2.9 percent. Since 1998, the overall crime rate in Thunder Bay has declined from 10,911 incidents per 100,000 to the current 6,576. However, the homicide rate has exhibited an opposite trend going from 2.6 homicides per 100,000 in 1998 to 6.04 per 100,000 in 2017. When it comes to crime severity, the accompany figure sums it all up quite nicely.
The overall crime severity rate (with everything relative to a base of 100) was quite stable from 1998 to about 2010 and then fell and has stabilized since 2012. For 2017, the crime severity index is up from 87.48 to 88.25- an increase of about 1 percent. The decline in the crime rate however is being driven by the fall in the rates of non-violent crime. What is more alarming is the increase in violent crime which in 2017 is the highest it has been since 1998.
We can argue that crime rates are down overall, but the concern of the public is that violent incidents – homicides, assaults, etc… seem to be on the way up. Drug possession or a vehicle theft is a problem, but the public is more perturbed by gang and drug related violence and homicides. The issue facing municipal candidates is what solutions can be offered to deal with the rising rates of violent crime in Thunder Bay? And to help frame the discussion in a simple manner amenable to most municipal candidates, should solutions involve more resources to police or more effective use of existing resources and what should those solutions be?