by Tarah Hodgkinson
North Battleford (NB), a city of 14,000 in Saskatchewan, has since 2009 held the title for the “crime capital of Canada” with the highest crime severity index (CSI) in the country. This led to a flurry of media coverage trying to understand how this small community could be so dangerous.
Throughout this period, Herb Sutton and Ryan Mackrell, crime prevention advocates, residents, and SafeGrowth practitioners, were on the ground working to figure out what was happening and how to fix it. Enlisting my help, we conducted a city-wide survey of crime and victimization.
Findings showed that residents generally felt safe. Violent victimization was low, and property crime was the most common issue. Residents identified a few areas in NB that felt unsafe but generally, they liked their community.
HIGH CSI BUT LOW VICTIMIZATION?
So, what was happening in North Battleford? Why was the CSI so high if victimization was relatively low and people felt safe?
Unlike crime rates that simply divide the total number of crimes by the population and multiply by 100,000, the CSI assigns a “statistical weighting” based on the seriousness of each crime included in the numerator.
Serious crimes like assault and homicide are weighted more heavily; for example, one homicide is weighted the same as 306 assaults. Apparently, this allows for a comparison of crime seriousness across the country.
However, like crime rates, the CSI is also impacted by population size. In technical terms, the total crime severity of all crimes, divided by low population size, is going to produce a higher crime severity index. It’s simple math. Just look at the highest crime severity indices for last year. Every one of them is a small community.
What does this mean for NB? First, they were labelled as the crime capital. That meant they had to fight a national stigma. Second, they still had very little information on which problems they might actually need to address. They had run a SafeGrowth training course in their city to analyse how to create more effective safety planning. But that didn’t change the government statistical reporting problems.
A NEW STATISTICAL TOOL
Enter the crime location quotient (LQ). The location quotient addresses some of the limitations of population-based statistics. LQs do not suffer from the same issue of population size. Instead, LQs use total crime for the area rather than population figures and they produce a figure for crime specialization. For example, assaults within NB, can be compared against assaults for the province of Saskatchewan, as a whole. The LQ addresses areas that are over or under-represented for certain crime types.
This allows practitioners to better understand which types of crime might be a concern (which type of crime specialization appears in their community) and how this specialization compares to other communities.
I conducted these LQ comparisons in a recent article in the Canadian Geographer and demonstrated that in 2018, similar to other years, North Battleford did not specialize in violent crime compared to the other 14 municipalities in Saskatchewan. In fact, when examining violent crime, non-violent crime, and eight crime types, NB specialized only in mischief.
While NB has held the record for “crime capital” since 2009, when using a geographical measure of crime (LQ), North Battleford drops to 12th place for violent crime and 3rd place for non-violent crime in Saskatchewan. Furthermore, in 2018, NB is under-represented for violent crime, assault, break and enter, theft of motor vehicle, and very under-represented for sexual assault.
THE RELEVANCE OF CSI
Is the CSI an inappropriate measure for understanding crime in Canada? My study questions its relevance. While the CSI offered another way to look at crime, its limitations have serious unintended consequences. Unlike what the CSI claims, this LQ study demonstrates that NB is not particularly “dangerous.”
The labelling of a small community like NB as the “crime capital” of Canada has damaging implications for the people who live there. It stigmatizes the community and disempowers local residents. My research suggests the media characterization of NB is largely unwarranted.
Lately, the media has turned to another Canadian community – Thompson, Manitoba – and they now claim that is the new “crime capital”. To residents and policy-makers in Thompson and elsewhere in Canada: Please consider carefully the weight, and truth, of such statistical statements. Instead, we suggest it is better to spend time and resources seeking out more effective methods of local capacity-building and neighborhood resilience.