It was an awkward moment for Ottawa police Chief Vern White last week as he tried to explain Statistics Canada figures that put our police force dead last in urban Ontario for solving crimes.
White, while quibbling with the numbers, conceded Ottawa deserved better than a 31 per cent “clearance rate” of crimes resulting in charges or other resolution, which put us at No. 17 of 17 cities in the province with populations of 100,000 or more.
While there will always be too much crime, it should never be forgotten that Ottawa’s crime rate is relatively low and sinking, with criminal code offences apart from traffic infractions declining by 7.5 per cent last year and around six per cent in each of the two years before that.
New data released last week by Statistics Canada showed Ottawa also suffered from fewer serious crimes than most other major Canadian cities. Only Quebec City and Toronto scored better.
Ottawa is also home to a federal government that nonetheless continues to act as if we are in an ever-worsening national crime wave for which the only solution is more people spending more time in prison. It recently announced measures to make car theft even more illegal. This discount brand of politics plays off exaggerated public fears, which persist even as actual crime declines.
A COMPAS survey commissioned by Ottawa police last year found about half of Ottawa residents either thought crime was about the same as it was three years ago or didn’t know enough to guess. Of the other half, people who thought crime had increased outnumbered by four to one those who (correctly) thought it had decreased.
The news media’s emphasis on crime stories, where the more awful and unusual the crime, the more ink it gets, is often blamed for skewing peoples’ perceptions of what’s actually going on out there. When respondents to the poll were asked about their own neighbourhood, the place they see it with their own eyes every day, they were considerably less likely to think things were getting worse.
Curious about your own neighbourhood? Ottawa Police Service participates in crimereports.com, which combines police reports with Google Maps to show you what’s happening where.
According to the site, in the past month, three B&Es and one theft of a vehicle were reported within a block of my home. Neat.
And then there’s the old-fashioned, low-tech solution: Look out for one another. The Ottawa police poll reported that only eight per cent of us participate in a Neighbourhood Watch program.