Lots of cities have mosquitoes, floods and cold weather, but only Winnipeg has the self-imposed reputation of Plague City. The same self-loathing is evident in the perpetual angst over crime, which is as real as mosquitoes, but hardly a pandemic of biblical proportions.

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Editorial

Lots of cities have mosquitoes, floods and cold weather, but only Winnipeg has the self-imposed reputation of Plague City. The same self-loathing is evident in the perpetual angst over crime, which is as real as mosquitoes, but hardly a pandemic of biblical proportions.

The city's homicide rate, for example, is starting to resemble a sports story, with emphasis on the setting and breaking of records, and statistical comparisons to past years and other cities. It's also used, wrongly, as a bellwether to measure the public's relative safety from year to year.

November 15 2011 edit dinky DALE CUMMINGS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / CITY VIOLENCE

November 15 2011 edit dinky DALE CUMMINGS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / CITY VIOLENCE

Homicides can tell a story. A large number of gangland shootings points to a gang war or bad blood or something similar. Too many random slayings may spark fears that a violent sociopath is on the loose. Too much violence in one neighbourhood speaks to social problems.

But while all those factors may have been at play in Winnipeg this year and in past years, the raw numbers do not support the theory that Winnipeg is a uniquely dangerous place. Of the 35 homicides so far this year, 11 were committed by teenagers, six had gang ties and most homicides occurred throughout the inner city.

Winnipeg may lead the nation in homicides per capita and in the crime severity index, but the fact is that crime overall has been declining in Winnipeg and across the country. It's true that Winnipeg has some serious crime problems that require more attention, particularly the proliferation of gangs and gun violence, but so do Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and most other major cities.

Police Chief Keith McCaskill is preparing to introduce a crime-reduction strategy, which ought to reflect some of the best ideas used by other cities in North America. With regard to gangs, city police have done a good job at weakening the Hells Angels' leadership, but the street-level hoodlums are proving to be an even tougher challenge.

The homicide rate may rise further before the end of the year, but it won't mean the plague is upon us.