Writing for Postmedia papers, MLI author Scott Newark lauds the federal government for adopting a new approach in the fight against inaccurate crime statistics.

However he says several shortcomings – such as certain measures that treat an incident with multiple crimes as a single offence – continue to skew the portrait of crime in Canada.

Many of the changes Statistics Canada made were contained in a report Newark produced for MLI, titled “Not the Whole Truth: Why Canadian crime statistics don’t add up”. He also produced a follow-up piece that recommended other improvements.

By Scott Newark, August 6, 2014

The release of the annual review of police reported crime statistics by Statistics Canada last month offered some encouraging news, both in the apparent reduction in actual crime volumes in Canada and in the improved way in which the crime statistics are being reported to Canadians.

These annual reports provide an important service, as they keep Canadians aware of the crime trends in their communities. The information also has the potential to enhance accountability by illustrating how the components of the justice system are working, or not, and informing substantive policy and operational reforms by governments at all levels. We really don’t need to be “tough” or “soft” on crime, but we should be honest — and smart — about crime.

To this end, for the past two years, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute has conducted a detailed analysis of these reports, including statistics that are not reported, but should be. As the author, I can confirm that this included a detailed review of several StatsCan reporting methodologies that were counterproductive to ensuring factual awareness. It should be noted that both the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and StatsCan were open to substantive discussions about how to improve the relevance of the crime statistics presented.

This year’s report shows significant improvement in reporting crime data, including explaining the reality and context of unreported crime and how the decrease in less serious crimes impacts the reporting of crime reduction overall. The StatsCan report also increases information about crime incidents, compared with crime rates, and combines homicide and attempted murder data, to give a more accurate picture of the most violent crimes.

Further, this year’s report increases relevant historical comparative data for incidents and rates, and restores reporting of how many young persons, (now up to 55 per cent) responsible for crimes were diverted outside the criminal process, rather than being prosecuted. As for decreases in certain types of crime, such as auto theft, the report specifically references the impact of targeted enforcement programs, a relevant analytical factor that could be applied elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this year’s report continues to use the utterly subjective and imprecise “Crime Severity Index” and the “Most Serious Incident” methodology, whereby an incident with multiple crimes only gets reported as a single offence. This causes certain crimes — such as breaching bail, probation or other court orders — to be under-reported. As a result, the information reported about justice-system performance is minimized.

That defect is further aggravated by StatsCan’s continuing non-reporting of relevant and available offender profile information, such as whether offences were committed by persons on bail, probation, conditional sentence, parole, with defined repeat offender records or by non-citizens who had previously been deported for criminality, or who could have been but were not. This defect impairs the proper understanding of the system’s performance and informed operational and policy decision making. It needs to be changed.

As for the data itself, the report confirms that the volume of crime, including most violent crime, has gone down from last year and from 10 years ago.

Preventive policing strategies involving community mental health and drug addiction may have played a role in this welcome crime prevention. The same is true about targeted repeat offender strategies and legislative reforms.

There were, however, troubling and significant increases in violent extortion and sexual crimes against children, but the data provided should be able to facilitate the creation of effective crime-reduction strategies.

But this year’s Police Reported Crime Statistics Report does provide encouraging information in terms of crime reduction, and the way in which it is being reported to Canadians — both of which are heartening.

Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown prosecutor and executive officer of the Canadian Police Association. He has served as a policy adviser to both the governments of Canada and Ontario, and is a regular contributor to the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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