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It's a crime what they do with stats

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RCMP headquarters in Thompson is not as busy as crime statistics might suggest.

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RCMP headquarters in Thompson is not as busy as crime statistics might suggest. Photo Store

FLIN FLON -- For all of its crime problems, northern Manitoba does not match the Wild West portrait painted, deliberately or not, by the media.

That said, recently released 2012 figures from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics bring good news, bad news and news that needs careful interpretation.

The biggest piece of good news: overall crime in Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas has declined.

While Thompson saw crime drop 18 per cent, and violent crime fall by 11 per cent, it retained the dubious title of Canada's most violent city.

Calling Thompson Canada's "most violent city" -- that is, the community with 10,000-plus people where police received the most complaints of crime categorized as "violent" -- is technically true but demands qualifiers.

For one, Thompson, as far as cities go, is tiny with 13,123 residents. Even a few violent incidents will catapult the per capita rate much faster than a few incidents in a big city.

Contrasting Thompson's per capita crime rate with Edmonton's or Ottawa's rate is an exercise fraught with statistical mislead.

And for all of the ink devoted to the hazards of living in Thompson, not everyone in the nickel city feels particularly jeopardized.

"The world is not an ugly place but has ugly things happen," says Jasyn Lucas, who is actively involved in the community. "The same goes for Thompson."

Lucas prefers to focus on the great things that Thompson has to offer, from music and outdoor activities to opportunities to volunteer and get behind different movements.

"I don't feel unsafe, I feel blessed, alive and awesome!" he says.

A 30-something aboriginal artist, Lucas makes note of a well-established fact: much of Thompson's crime is not perpetrated by Thompson people.

"Thompson, don't forget, is a hub of the north that services a unique surrounding population that faces many social and economic challenges," he says. "A lot of the crime is shared from the Far North."

Which isn't to say there aren't real concerns in Thompson; there are. The same goes for The Pas, where crime was down by the narrowest of margins, 0.19 per cent.

The Pas had an overall crime rate significantly above that of Thompson, and many locals say outsiders are to blame there as well.

Fortunately, The Pas saw violent crime plummet even more than in Thompson, evidence efforts to subdue gangs are paying off.

Once again in 2012, Flin Flon was statistically the safest of the north's "big three," with a per-capita crime rate 3.7 times below that of The Pas and 2.7 times below that of Thompson.

One factor is geography, as Flin Flon has less traffic from isolated First Nations whose socioeconomic conditions, tragically and all too often, breed clashes with the law.

There is also much to be said for how one construes the data.

In 2011 and 2012, for instance, Flin Flon had much less violent crime than The Pas but two homicides to the latter town's zero. Is more violence preferable if no one is slain?

Flin Flon was also the only major northern community to see violent crime rise last year, by a not-insignificant 32 per cent.

Is this the start of a troublesome new trend? Like the violent-crime decreases in Thompson and The Pas, only time can tell.

Crime on northern reserves remained high compared with urban centres, continuing a long-standing challenge.

What is striking about the crime stats is just how few perps there are.

Between Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas, there were 10,162 reported violations last year. RCMP charged 2,114 people, making for an average of nearly five crimes per suspect.

A northern Mountie once told me that 95 per cent of his calls were related to substance abuse. Almost as many involved someone with whom he already had dealings.

Substance abuse and repeat offenders are the bane of police officers everywhere. What northern Manitoba needs is more access to the treatment and support programs enjoyed by our neighbours in the south.

 

Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2013 A13

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