Deachman: Are the streets of Ottawa safe? that depends on who you ask

According to University of Ottawa professor Michael Kempa, the overall increase in reported crime in 2021 in Ottawa is largely a course correction to the recession created by the pandemic.

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You’ve no doubt heard the wake-up call: Crime is on the rise in Ottawa and someone needs to do something about it: the next mayor, perhaps, if Mark Sutcliffe, the only one of the three high-profile mayoral candidates who makes crime and safety an outstanding choice deck plank prevails in that contest. Otherwise, Bytown risks going back to its lawless lumber days.

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And there are numbers to back up the claim that crime is getting worse, as long as you squint a bit and don’t look too far down.

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Ottawa’s crime rate in 2021 (3,510 Criminal Code of Canada offenses per 100,000 residents reported to Ottawa Police) was 6.8% higher than in 2020. Violent crime rate increased by 5.5 % in that period. The nonviolent crime rate increased by 7.2%. The crime severity index, which measures the seriousness of reported crimes, increased 3.6 percent. About the only thing that decreased was the police clearance rate, which fell from 33.7 percent in 2020 to 31.8 percent last year. Clearly we need a larger police budget to put more troops on the ground or on cruise ships, right?

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But wait. If you compare last year’s numbers to the previous year, 2019, before COVID-19 drove residents into their homes, you’ll see a very different picture: The overall crime rate over the past two years has dropped by 17.3 percent, with the rate of violent crimes was reduced by 10.2% and non-violent by 18.9%. The crime severity index also fell 12.4 percent. About the only thing that got worse during that two-year period was, again, the rate of police purges.

Meanwhile, the 15 Penal Code violations that resulted in deaths in Ottawa in 2021 (by means such as murder, manslaughter, infanticide, and criminal negligence), while significantly higher than the nine that occurred in 2020, were one fewer than the annual average for the last six years. In other words, the nine deaths reported in 2020 were an anomaly, not the 15 last year. Furthermore, even last year’s highest total suggests that the chance of you being a victim of such crimes is extremely rare: one chance in 68,000, all other factors being equal, though of course they are not; if you’re home in bed at 2am on a Saturday night, for example, you have a much better chance of seeing another sunrise than if you were randomly fighting strangers at ByWard Market.

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According to University of Ottawa associate professor of criminology Michael Kempa, the overall increase in reported crime in 2021 in Ottawa is largely simply a course correction to the recession created by the pandemic.

“During COVID and the societal lockdown, property crime and interpersonal violence crime dropped significantly, simply because the opportunity for property crime dropped significantly in the first place. People were at home, literally taking care of their homes while they worked.”

The lockdowns, he adds, have also greatly reduced the amount of personal contact in society. “So all kinds of random physical violence went down. You’re not in bars, getting into that kind of pressure, pressure that happens on Friday nights. Crimes of opportunity, where people were robbed or held for cash at an ATM, all went down.”

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However, not all crimes decreased. The added pressure of the closures, he says, led to a rise in incidents of intimate partner violence, as well as hate crimes.

“For those who tended to go in that direction, unfortunately, their worst behavior caught their attention,” says Kempa. “People were home with a lot of time on their hands, getting all kinds of conspiracy theories and rhetoric on social media, and they started contributing.

“Now,” he adds, “we are coming back into society in many important ways and we would expect to see an uptick in all of the mainstream categories of crime.”

General statements about making the city safe don’t mean much, Kempa says. “Safe from what, and who should be safe?” he asks. “Because over time, overall crime rates are pretty constant, but it changes to different areas, depending on what’s going on in society.”

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A report by Acting Police Chief Steve Bell to the Ottawa Board of Police Services cites shoplifting and gasoline theft as the main contributors to a 24 percent year-over-year increase in the second quarter in reported crimes.
A report by Acting Police Chief Steve Bell to the Ottawa Board of Police Services cites shoplifting and gasoline theft as the main contributors to a 24 percent year-over-year increase in the second quarter in reported crimes. Photo by Tony Caldwell /post media

Indeed, this is reflected in a report, dated Monday, September 26, from Acting Police Chief Steve Bell to the Ottawa Board of Police Services. In it, he cites shoplifting and gasoline theft as the main contributors to a 24 percent year-over-year increase in the second quarter in reported crimes. These crimes, perhaps related to rising inflation, are not without victims, but they are not the first to come to mind to keep safety-conscious residents awake. He notes, too, that the increase, according to the Bell report, brings the “metric in line with historical levels.”

It’s easy to seize on security as an election issue, especially given recent high-profile cases of mass violence in Canada, which Kempa describes as outliers and a symptom of a society that hasn’t been functioning normally in recent years. Who, after all, is NOT for a safer community? It’s like naming a piece of legislation the Prosperity for Canadian Families Bill.

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“Nobody in their right mind would be against these statements,” says Kempa. “It’s the details. And if you say, ‘Well, we’re going to clamp down and come up with a policy to make the streets of Ottawa safer,’ there really isn’t a specific police program that you would run that would, on its own, make the streets safer. more secure. safer Any particular program you run could have an impact on some specific category of crime. So you would have to be specific. Instead of giving a blanket statement, politicians should tell us which categories of crime are the problem and what their plan is to tackle them.”

In 2019, the province mandated that municipalities prepare and adopt a Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan. Ottawa cites six priorities: discrimination, marginalization and racism; financial security and poverty reduction; gender violence against women; accommodation; integrated and simpler systems; and psychological well-being. Among the plan’s nearly three dozen proposed outcomes are seeing fewer people requiring food banks, improving access to supports for survivors of gender-based violence and reducing the number of mental health crisis calls handled by the Police Service. from Ottawa.

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But the plan, says Kempa, like those of many municipalities, has many platitudes and slogans and, so far, few details.

“Any mayoral candidate who doesn’t have a plan for the safety and well-being of the community is not yet ready to be mayor. That’s an important file on every mayoral candidate’s desk. So what’s the plan? Who is going to pay for it? How are you going to get the province to contribute? Are there federal grants available? Because there is absolutely no way that the municipal tax base can finance these types of plans that have been developed in principle, but not in detail. So what’s the detailed plan, other than ‘I’m for the safety of the community?’”

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