Northern Economist 2.0

Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts

Friday, 11 October 2019

Why Understanding Crime Numbers Is Important for Public Policy

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.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Crime and the Economy: Are Low Interest Rates a Factor?

The most recent set of crime statistics for Canada revealed that police-reported crime in Canada, as measured by both the crime rate and the Crime Severity Index (CSI), increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, rising 2%.  The accompanying figure below further reinforces the fact that after years of decline – a decline that stretches back to the 1990s – crime rates are rising.  Of course, all of this begs the question as to why crime rates are rising again after years of decline.

Explaining the drop in crime rates has been a source of some debate.  The fall in crime rates since the 1990s in Canada as well as the United States has been attributed to a number of factors including new policing strategies, changes in the market for illegal drugs, an aging population, a stronger economy, tougher gun control laws and increases in police numbers. As for the impact of the economy on crime, well that is also a source of debate. 

On the one hand, the intuitive feeling is that a weak economy should cause people to turn to crime.  Yet, many studies of the relationship between the economy and crime have found statistically small relationships between unemployment and property crime and often no relationship between violent crime and unemployment.  It has also been argued that economic downturns may actually reduce criminal opportunities as when unemployment is high more people are at home "protecting" their property and when out and about they carry less cash and possessions.

If the latter is the case, one could make the argument that the strengthening economy of the last couple of years has been a key factor in fueling the recent surge in crime.  Unemployment rates in Canada are at historic lows and to add fuel to the fire – so are interest rates.  Low interest rates mean that even if more employment today is part-time or uncertain, people are still able to consume more and go out more simply by borrowing more.  Indeed, Statistics Canada also noted recently that the seasonally adjusted household credit market debt to disposable income ratio increased to 178.5 percent in the 4th quarter of 2018. 

More debt to fuel spending on homes and basic consumption frees up resources to spend on more illicit things like illegal drugs and much of the recent crime increase is drug related. 
With unemployment low and cheap money sloshing around both fueling spending and consumption, the opportunities for crime may have mounted. It is certainly a point worth considering.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Addressing Violent Crime in Thunder Bay

Mayor Bill Mauro has gone public in his calls for help in dealing with crime in Thunder Bay.  In reports by Thunder Bay Television and the Chronicle-Journal, the Mayor has called on the federal and provincial governments for assistance in dealing with the spike in violent crime that is afflicting Thunder Bay.  The City of Thunder Bay is hard pressed to deal with the financial impact on the police budget of the recommendations made by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) to deal with systemic racism and now the spike in gang-related violent drug crime that is underway.

Thunder Bay is experiencing a surge in violent crime that has been underway for a number of years. While overall crime rates are down in Thunder Bay as shown by overall traditional crime rates as well as the Crime Severity index, violent crimes are up. As Figure 1 below shows, overall crime as measured by the Crime Severity Index (Source: Statistics Canada) has fallen from a peak of 126.25 in 1998 to reach 88.25 in 2017.  Violent crime, however is at 145.81 in 2017 and was 122.62 in 1998.  When linear trends are fitted to the data, violent crime has been trending up over time while overall crime severity has been trending down with non-violent crime severity quite flat.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Thunder Bay Municipal Election Issues: Crime

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?

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Homicies Data Update: Thunder Bay Still Ranked First

Statistics Canada has just released the latest crime data report with the 2017 edition of Police Reported Crime Statistics. Overall, crime is up a bit in Canada.  While there has been some improvement in Thunder Bay's ranking when it comes to crime severity in general, what is of particular interest of course especially to us in Thunder Bay is the homicide rate.  According to Statistics Canada:

"After little change in 2016, the national homicide rate increased 7% in 2017, moving from 1.69 homicides per 100,000 population to 1.80. Police reported 660 homicides, 48 more than in 2016. The 2017 homicide rate was higher than the average for the previous decade (1.67 per 100,000 population for 2007 to 2016).

The increase in the national number of homicides was largely a result of the greater number of homicides in British Columbia (+30) and Quebec (+26).

With a total of seven homicides in 2017, Thunder Bay recorded the highest homicide rate among the CMAs for the second year in a row (5.80 homicides per 100,000 population). Abbotsford–Mission (with 9 homicides) and Edmonton (with 49 homicides) had the next highest homicide rates (4.72 and 3.49 per 100,000 population, respectively). Saguenay was the only CMA to report no homicides in 2017.

The attempted murder rate in Canada increased 4% from 2016 to 2017, to 2.25 per 100,000 population. A 25% increase in the province of Quebec was the main contributor to the overall national increase. This was due to the January 2017 shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Qu├ębec. This incident resulted in six homicide victims and 40 victims of attempted murder."

I have done a number of posts on this topic over the years so its time to update some of the numbers. The two figures below plot the homicide rate (homicides per 100,000 of population) for Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Canada.  The first figure is the raw annual homicide rate while the second figure plots a smoothed series which gives you a better picture of the longer term trends. Annual numbers tend to have a lot of variation and you really should not base analysis or policy on one or two years of data. However, based on the smoothed series (LOWESS Smooth using a 0.8 bandwidth) you can see the picture that emerges here over the longer term.

While the homicide rate in Thunder Bay for 2017 is down from the previous year at 5.8 versus 6.6 homicides per 100,000, the long term trend in one of increase.  The annual  un-smoothed data suggests the upward trend began circa 2008-09 while the smoothed series suggests that it has been a 21st century phenomenon with the rise starting approximately around 2000.  Thunder Bay's homicide rate has diverged from the national trend which has been one of decline.

This is certainly one issue for the Fall 2018 municipal election.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Crime in Northern Ontario Down

My last post on policing resources in the major northern Ontario cities noted that all five cities saw an increase in policing resources. In 2000, the largest number of police offers adjusted for population was in Thunder Bay at 171.6 (per 100,000 of population), followed by Sault Ste Marie at 156, Timmins at 153.1, North Bay at 147.6 and finally Greater Sudbury at 143.1.  By 2016, Thunder Bay was still first at 199.5 officers per 100,000 of population.  It was followed by Timmins at 196.2, Sault Ste. Marie at 176.7, Greater Sudbury at 160.7 and then North Bay at 152.6.  Growth in per capita policing resources was greatest in Timmins at 28 percent, followed by Thunder Bay which saw a 16 percent increase.  Next highest growth was Sault Ste. Marie at 13 percent, followed by Greater Sudbury and North Bay at 12 and 3 percent respectively.

Of course, the logical question that follows next is what was going on in crime rates over the same period of time?  It should be noted that policing is much more complex in the early 21st century dealing not only with traditional crimes but also with new crime areas such as cyber and internet crime.  As well, social issues in general have been consuming more police resources as well as new standards of accountability which entail more intensive use of policing resources when dealing with incidents.  Homicide investigation is especially resource intensive.  Nonetheless, a look at crime rates it is still a useful piece of information. 

Traditional measures of the crime rate such as criminal code incidents per 100,000 of population or per police officer measure the volume of crime.  One example is the homicide rate and past evidence has found the homicide rate declining in northern Ontario in a manner akin to other Canadian cities with the exception of a recent surge in Thunder Bay.  Another measure of crime is the Crime Severity Index.  The Crime Severity Index combines both volume as well as takes into consideration the seriousness of crimes by assigning each type of offense a seriousness weight and generally serves as a complement to other measures.  The index has been set to 100 for Canada in 2006 and enables comparisons of crime severity both at a point in time and over time. 

Figure 1 plots the value of the Crime Severity Index obtained from Statistics Canada for the five major northern Ontario cities for the period 1998 to 2016.  The severity of crime differs across these five cities in any given year but all cities have seen a decline over time.  The largest declines over time have been in Sudbury and North Bay at 36 and29 percent respectively.  Next is Thunder Bay with a 17 percent decline in crime severity between 1998 and 2016, followed by Sault Ste. Marie at 16 percent and then Timmins at 15 percent.  The good news is that while there are annual ebbs and flows, crime rates over the long term are down in these major northern Ontario cities.