Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crime stats create optimism

Data show drop in property and violent crimes

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Crimes such as murder, attempted murder and arson were down in 2013, while the number of sexual assaults increased.

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Crimes such as murder, attempted murder and arson were down in 2013, while the number of sexual assaults increased. Photo Store

Winnipeg is one safer city.

Police and local criminologists are hailing a report Friday showing a variety of key violent and property crimes are plummeting.

"There is a perception that crime is stubborn and unchanging, but I think statistically for the last few years it has been improving steadily," said Steven Kohm, head of the criminal justice department at the University of Winnipeg. "Generally, we're in a better place than we were but year-to-year, it's hard to see it."

The police service's fourth-quarter report released Friday found incidents of violent crime in Winnipeg dropped 7.6 per cent from 2012 to 2013, and the incident rate was 22.1 per cent lower than the previous five-year average.

The data showed year-to-year declines in the number of homicides, arson, property crimes and major violent crimes, including robberies and assaults.

Deputy chief Dave Thorne said while recent statistics show an overall drop in violent crime over the past five years, the measure of public safety includes other factors he said are also in Winnipeg's favour.

"Stats will show certain things," Thorne told reporters following his appearance at the Winnipeg Police Board Friday. "A lot of times you can take stats, numbers and turn them into good messages.

"One of the key measures for a police service is how people feel the fear, how safe do people feel. If the mission or work of the police service is to allow people to feel safe in their community when they step out their door... then I think we are achieving a safer city."

Thorne said the statistical data are a reflection of the co-operation between the WPS and other agencies and government bodies working toward improving life in the city.

"I do believe we are achieving a safer city but it's not us (police) alone that is doing that."

Kohm and his counterpart from the University of Manitoba said the statistical data released by the police mirror the downward trend in crime during the past decade.

Frank Cormier, a criminologist at the University of Manitoba, said people in most communities across the country generally believe their community is more dangerous than it is.

Cormier said it's hard to tell from statistics whether people are safer, but the data released by the WPS should provide them with real comfort.

"People don't feel as safe as they should," Cormier said. "If we bring people's perceptions more in line with reality, I would say that is a good thing."

Kohm said it's the isolated, high-profile incidents of crime that colour individual perceptions and undermine advances made in reducing criminal activity.

"It's a story the public won't believe no matter what you tell them," Kohm said.

"People are going to cling to those very high-profile events and they're just not going to believe that the police have accomplished much," Kohm said. "But there is evidence we have made improvements."

Thorne said weather plays a factor in the occurrence of crime -- the colder the temperature, the less crime in the city.

Thorne attributed an increase in sexual assaults to domestic situations and an increase in attempted murders on the city's inter-gang warfare.

Thorne said there has been a noticeable increase in Internet extortion. While the number of incidents is small, there was a 300 per cent increase from 2012 and a 48.1 per cent increase over the five-year average.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 A3

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