Crime is down although perception of crime has increased

Public perception and reality are out of sync when it comes to crime.  Canadians think that crime is increasing; statistics show that it is decreasing.


The latest statistics show that crime is the lowest in 20 years.  Just about every type of crime going down: homicides, sexual  assaults, and break and enters.  Drug offences went against the trend by increasing by 12 per cent, but three-quarters of all drug arrests were linked to marijuana.

One conventional explanation is that crime is really higher than the statistics show because many crimes go unreported.  I don’t think so — crimes are reported more than ever.  Programs like Neighbourhood Watch, and technology such as surveillance cameras, ensure that crime is more likely reported.   There are three factors that make crime seem worse than it is.

1)Perception of crime. Crime looms large when they it close to home.  For example, last week when a disturbed man held his children hostage and terrorized his neighbours in Kamloops last week, crime seemed to be out-of-control.  Crimes against the family are no longer hidden — spousal beatings, murder of family members, sexual assault on children, stalking of women, all hit close to home.

These crimes were once cloaked under the mask of family respectability and censure. What was private family grief has become public.  Public display of the grief of victims has become the subject of many television talk shows. Victims of crime now reveal their anguish through impact statements to courts.

Then there are the aging baby-boomers.  They have always shaped public opinion by their sheer numbers, and they still do.  An aging population skews the perception of crime.  As baby-boomers age, they loose the sense that they once had of controlling the world.  Even though crimes committed by youths are not increasing, the perception of aging baby-boomers is that of a world in which they are losing control to a new generation.

Thus, youth crime appears to increase.  Boomers once felt smug about the generation gap. They sang along with Bob Dylan when he wailed, “something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”  Now that boomers are on the other side of the generation gap, they feel out of touch,  and a little sorry for Mr. Jones.

2) Marketing of crime.  The portrayal of violent crime in movies, video games, and  television is a factor. The pervasive idiot-eye of American television has seen into the hearts of its viewers and it sees fear — and fear sells products.  Canadians are drawn to the spectacle of the violence in of American society like gawkers at the scene of a road accident. We want to look away but we are fascinated by the horror.

After exposure to lurid, fictional crime, things seem sinister. Kids in green spiky hair and bodies pierced in improbable places, now seem menacing.  Perception aside, kids are nicer than they have been for a long time. They are certainly nicer than the “me generation” who wanted it all and to-hell-with-everyone-else. But in the advertising world, those without spending power are vilified.

3) Politics of crime.  Stockwell Day smells fear in the electorate.  He has been campaigning on a platform of getting tough on youth offenders and on crime.  He doesn’t let facts get in the way of politics. When faced with the statistics that show that crime is on the decline, he said “We need to look at the statistics carefully. Of course, it’s our intention to have policies that would see an ongoing reduction in crime.”

There is no doubt what the statistics show. The perception, marketing, and politics of crime are increasing, not crime itself.  Of course crime could be lower.  Politicians should be tackling the sources of crime — poverty of children, the cycle of family abuse, and the growing numbers of desperate homeless.  But it’s easier to exploit voter’s fears than find real solutions to crime.

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