BEYOND THE HEADLINE: Statistics aren’t everything

One has to wonder if anyone from Maclean’s has ever been to the North Okanagan before?

Just last week, the news magazine released an article on Canada’s most violent communities and Vernon was number nine.

This claim was based on a 2016 crime severity index of 157 (CSI is a Statistics Canada measure of all police-reported crime, which takes into consideration both the volume and seriousness of offences).

Obviously this caught Vernon’s powers-that-be off guard.

“Vernon is a safe city. You can ask that to anybody and they’ll say the same thing,” said Mayor Akbal Mund.

The report broke down the crimes in the 229 cities. Vernon was No. 5 for break-and-enters while it was 225 for homicides, 29 for violent crime, 16 for robbery, 15 for fraud, 16 for cocaine trafficking and 31 for firearms offences.

Now consider that the Maclean’s ranking covers communities from as small as Coldstream (10,000) to Toronto, which is bigger than seven provinces.

The statistics can be skewed for smaller cities like Vernon (39,960).

“In 2016, Vernon experienced a number of violent incidents, including three where a firearm was discharged,” said Const. Kelly Brett, with the local RCMP.

“These incidents, which were linked to the drug trade, would significantly impact the city’s violent crime rating.”

When it comes to property crime, there was a surge in early 2016 but a number of prolific offenders were arrested.

“Once again, due to Vernon’s relatively small population size, even one prolific offender can significantly impact the non-violent crime rating,” said Brett.

Now in no way am I diminishing the seriousness of any crime. It’s extremely obvious that homes and businesses are broken into, and the emotional scars and feelings of vulnerability can be overwhelming. And the trauma escalates when a person simply doing their job at a corner store is robbed, especially at gunpoint.

But what is lacking in the Maclean’s article is perspective.

The sad reality is that break-and-enters and robberies occur everywhere. No community, no matter the size, is immune from the situation, especially as some people turn to crime to fuel addictions. There will be years when Vernon’s rate of offences is up, and other times when it’s down.

Now in terms of homicides, Vernon has had one so far in 2017 but as of mid-October, there had been eight in Richmond and 17 in Vancouver. By July 23, there had been 26 murders in Toronto.

And unless you are involved in questionable activities, such as the drug trade, there is reduced chance that you are going to be a victim of violence.

As mentioned earlier, crime crosses all boundaries so identifying a handful of municipalities as the most violent in Canada isn’t that helpful and it certainly doesn’t reflect what is truly going on in those communities. In the case of Vernon, there was no mention of the significant resources the city and the RCMP have put into public safety, or the successful efforts of the Restorative Justice Society and Crime Stoppers. And what about the many non-profits who provide services to the marginalized and those individuals who are often preyed on first?

Yes crime occurs in Vernon but the statistics don’t tell the whole story.

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