The meetings currently underway in Thunder Bay for police service boards and chiefs is focusing on challenges facing the north and in particular those dealing with guns, drugs and gangs. In particular, the lack of funding for addressing what is perceived to be escalating crime is a major grievance given that the federal government has transferred money to the Ontario government to fight gangs, drugs and gun related activity but to date the province has apparently only chosen to assist Toronto and Ottawa. Jeff McGuire, executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, is in Thunder Bay for the meetings and stated: “I think the government had the right intentions, there were serious guns and gangs issues going on at that moment in Toronto and GTA area. Members of OACP were quick to point out it’s not just a GTA challenge.”
What is interesting when looking at this issue is taking a look at the violent crime statistics. Figure 1 plots total violent crimes from 1998 to 2018 for Thunder Bay, Toronto and Ottawa. If a provincial government politician handing out money to fight growing violent crime is deciding on where need was most urgent based on Figure 1, they would automatically judge that need was greatest in Toronto. Toronto not only has the most violent crime incidents of the three cities but also what seems visually to be a rapidly escalating problem since 2015 - which by the way was preceded by a long decline. Indeed, after a period of decline, all three cities have seen an increase in total violent crime largely related to increased gang and drug activity, but Toronto has the most violent crimes, followed by Ottawa and then Thunder Bay.
However, making the decision only based on total volume misses the point that crime is not only about total scale but also intensity relative to the size of local populations. Toronto and the GTA does indeed have the most violent crime, but it also accounts for almost half of Ontario’s population. What is also relevant is crime per person or per capita which adjusts for total population size.
Figure 2 plots the number of violent crimes per 100,000 population and here the difference is startling. While all three cities have seen an increase in violent crimes per capita over the last three years, Thunder Bay’s rate is practically double that of either Ottawa or Toronto. Its policing numbers and resources per capita are definitely not double those of either city. Some help is obviously needed.
The provincial government does need to address the local policing situation though as has been noted, more money alone will not solve the problem. We need to understand why it is that after years of decline, violent crime in all three cities is now trending upwards. As was noted by Jeff McGuire, there are other issues to be addressed including mental health, poverty and firearm access. Nevertheless, a good start would be understanding the distinction between totals and per capita amounts and making it part of any decision making process that allocates new resources.