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Keep crime stats in perspective

Posted on July 31, 2019 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Did you hear the latest news? Lethbridge ranks No. 1 on the most recent crime survey from Statistics Canada, showing the highest increase in crime and severity in the entire country! And this on the heels of the last Maclean’s magazine ranking which placed Lethbridge among the top 20 most crime-ridden communities in Canada!
Sounds like it might be time to pack up and get out of Dodge — or, perhaps more fitting, Tombstone, the infamous wild-west home of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, doesn’t it?
Well, now, hold on to your horses. Before we pack up the wagons and head for more peaceful parts, let’s take a closer look at what the numbers are saying. Any time a community tops a crime survey, it’s a headline grabber that can prompt an emotional reaction among the citizens, but it’s important to keep things in the proper perspective.
It’s true that Lethbridge placed at the top of the list in StatCan’s national 2018 Police-Reported Crime Severity Index report, which measures changes in crime severity from year to year. Lethbridge’s figure of 137 (out of a baseline measurement of 100) was the highest among cities with a population over 100,000 in terms of increase in crime and severity from 2017 to 2018.
The increase was driven largely by the growing number of drug-related crimes, the same dynamic behind Lethbridge’s appearance on the Maclean’s “most dangerous cities” list. Does that mean Lethbridge is now more dangerous than Vancouver or Toronto?
No, but what it does indicate is that Lethbridge is catching up to many other Canadian centres in feeling the effects of the opioid crisis that is spreading across the continent like algae on a stagnant pond. The drug trade and crime go hand in hand, and as the drug problem grows, so does the associated crime.
Mayor Chris Spearman, while noting that no city wants to top a list such as the newest StatCan report, points out that the statistics are based on 2018, and that we haven’t had a chance to see how new programs such as The Watch and Community Peace Officers will impact the situation.
This is not to suggest that the StatCan survey is a meaningless exercise, and that Lethbridge residents don’t have legitimate reason to feel some concern. The statistics point out a worrying trend, and that’s why these new alternative policing programs have been started, to deal with a very real problem that has been making its presence felt in the community. In addition, the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce’s newly released report on the drug crisis points out the very real economic cost of the problem. The chamber’s statistics indicate that the addiction crisis in Alberta impacts citizens to the tune of about $1,332 per person.
But let’s give these new measures some time to work. Let’s see what harm reduction efforts can do to mitigate the drug crisis. When there’s an oil well fire, pouring water on the flames is only part of the battle — at some point, the well has to be capped.
The crime statistics show that Lethbridge isn’t the quiet community of decades past when people didn’t have to lock their vehicles or their homes. We have to live with that unfortunate reality. But neither is Lethbridge turning into Toronto — or Tombstone.

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