Last week we began a series of blogs about the impact of local news on neighborhood perceptions and how different media styles affect community engagement. The last blog discussed media coverage in Denver, Colorado. This week Mateja takes our analysis to Slovenia.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Like in many other parts of the world, Slovenian daily news likewise has disproportionately covered the Ukrainian war for over a month. Sadly, local crime remains uninhibited despite this global crisis. In fact, it is possible that crime may increase during these times or shortly afterwards.
ARMED ROBBERY OF A JEWELLERY STORE
One news story that raised eyebrows was a brazen armed robbery of a jewellery store committed in daylight adjacent to the city’s municipal building.
Two robbers, one of whom was armed, tied up an employee and then escaped via the historic part of the city. There was a description of the two perpetrators, however, readers commented that this was of no use since the perpetrators would have already disguised themselves once they escaped. Those responsible for the robbery have not yet been apprehended.
As in last week’s blog, reader comments also mentioned police issues. Readers complained that police foot patrols that were once present in the city centre are now absent. They believed such a presence could deter crime and provide reassurance to city-goers. There is scientific evidence supporting these comments. Research shows that police foot patrols can help reduce robberies.
This story reports on a domestic homicide from last year when an 80-year-old man murdered his sleeping wife by repeatedly hitting her on her head with an axe. The story reports details of how he hit her at least 34-times causing her to die at the scene. The story questions whether the accused will be fit to stand trial considering his frail health and possible impaired judgment at the time of the act. The report offers a dry description of facts.
While the cases of domestic homicide are difficult to comprehend, they are sadly all too common and have increased in Slovenia during COVID lockdowns. Domestic violence most often occurs behind closed doors and in neighbourhoods where people are disengaged from one another. In Slovenia, it is not uncommon to expect that what happens at home is a private matter, especially in rural areas.
The final news story involves a 25-year-old perpetrator who broke in, stole items, and then set fire in several locations across Ljubljana city centre including the COVID test location, a market stand, and a rubbish bin. The perpetrator was apprehended owing to witness information about his movements. The rest of the report provides basic facts about the event and the police statement. Readers’ comments, however, are highly judgmental about the apprehended young man and suggest he must be bored for engaging in such acts or that he needs to “learn to do some real job”.
This case attracted extra attention as the country is currently on high alert for forest fires, so any open fire is strictly prohibited. Over the past two weeks, firefighters had to extinguish several forest fires and police suspect these fires have been set intentionally.
I am lucky to live in a fairly safe country. The national homicide rate is around 1 per 100.000 inhabitants. Rates vary by city (the capital city Ljubljana’s rate is below 1 while Celje’s – the third-largest city – is 2.6) but overall serious crime is rare. Unlike the situation in Denver reported last week, in Slovenia the rarity of shootings and homicide is reflected in scarce reporting of serious crimes in the news media.
However, there are some implications from Slovenian news not directly mentioned in these reports. They are obvious to those of us engaged in SafeGrowth programming:
It might be too early to tell what impacts the current war will have on local crime trends, however, one thing is certain. We should not disregard the impacts of global affairs. Our neighbourhoods are not insulated from their surroundings. Spending extra attention on community-building and creating resilient neighbourhoods is the best insurance policy against the potential post-war effects of increasing crime and the worsening news headlines that may become a new reality.
“Just because the average has improved massively, doesn’t mean there is not severe problems of unequal distribution.”
by Gregory Saville
The above quote is from the controversial psychologist, latter-day populist, Jordan Peterson, someone to whom I seldom pay much attention. To me, his views are too politically motivated and aligned with the far right, even though he claims otherwise. He is addicted to cultural drugs that I don’t take.
Yet there I was, watching Peterson, recently returned from his traumatic medical crisis, in a long discussion with radio host Russell Brand talking about the power of community and the powerful global trend of incremental rational progress - topics I thought he discounted.
Peterson was discussing the difference between the overall average conditions versus the relative conditions around the globe. It is the difference between the average altitude of a mountain range and the peaks and valleys. Both are important.
Consider the altitude crowd: The progressive incrementalists, people like Hans Rosling, Steven Pinker, or Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy’s landmark book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know, argue that things in the world are getting better and the evidence is conclusive.
Then look at the peaks and valleys: We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest and riots continue in certain countries, and just two weeks ago some local kid in my neighborhood shot up a grocery store with an assault rifle and killed ten people.
Sure doesn’t look good from this altitude!
WHO IS RIGHT?
Peterson has nailed this – the incremental progress people are right and the sky is falling crowd are right. Both are happening at the same time.
Take, for example, crime rates around the world. Whether you get your stats from the World Bank, the World Development Indicators index, or the United Nations, the stats show an undeniable incremental improvement.
In spite of some alarming homicide increases in American cities this past year (discussed in a prior blog), the overall national homicide rates per 100,000 people have been plummeting in country after country.
This is true in the United States...
... in Canada
... in Australia
... and the Netherlands
Then I came upon some Canadian policy planners inviting a Dutch criminologist to Canada to describe the remarkable crime reductions in the Netherlands. If you look at the murder rate declines in both countries, you see that the rates in both countries are fairly similar, except Canada’s decline started from a higher rate than in the Netherlands. The Netherlands should be asking Canada how it was so successful!
Apparently, Canadian policy planners are paying attention to the peaks and valleys and ignoring the averages!
Or consider Mexico, in one of the world’s regions where crime rates are not declining.
Let’s not do what Mexico is doing! We are told by criminologists that Mexico’s crime problem is driven by opportunistic drug cartels taking advantage of illicit drug demand in the U.S. If so maybe we should do what some Mexican politicians suggest – de-criminalize drugs. Since the primary reason for Mexican crime is uncontrolled illicit drug demand in the U.S., decriminalizing would cut demand and thereby, cut crime.
Or is that a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Maybe Mexico should deal with its own drug cartels who create the drug supplies and not focus on the U.S. market that creates the demand? In any event, for ten U.S. states, the marijuana de-criminalization process has already been in place for years, and yet Narco crime has not subsided.
WHAT TO DO?
Ultimately, while averages – especially overall crime rates – are improving, it is difficult to see that in everyday life. It is in the valleys and peaks where we suffer every day. Gang wars, deprived neighborhoods, and crime concentrations still plague our cities and too many people suffer needless violence.
In SafeGrowth we commit to our discovery that the most powerful way to improve quality of life and prevent crime is to work within the neighborhood with local groups and to provide the capacity for community safety planning by residents. Building community capacity at the local level is, ultimately, the way forward.