Sustaining the Illusion of Crime Reduction

Crimestat has been used as an effective  investigative and management  tool by the Winnipeg Police Service for several years now.  The results have been impressive in terms of showing a reduction in the overall crime rate in Winnipeg since 2007.  If one  links the crime rate to safety,  the citizens of Winnipeg should generally feel safer now than they did 2 years ago as the crime rate for the crimes being tracked has dropped.

One needs to ask, however, whether Winnipeg is a safer city today or whether the Crimestat numbers paint an illusion of a safer city.

The downward crime trend as presented by the Crimestat numbers has been driven by a very effective proactive campaign directed at reducing auto theft.  As the auto theft numbers approach the national average, the decrease in auto thefts will level out.  In the last several years the dramatic reduction in auto thefts have negatively skewed the overall crime numbers in Winnipeg.

For example, currently Crimestat shows an 18% reduction in crime year to date comparing 2008 to 2009.   However, if the numbers for attempted and actual auto theft are screened out there is actually a 6 % overall increase in crime.  This increase is driven by a rise in residential break-ins (11%) and non-commercial robberies (38%).  *

There is no secret to the success of the auto theft reduction program.  The program uses a  multi-faceted, inter-disciplinary strategy unlike the strategies applied by the police service to other crime areas.  As the auto theft strategy accomplishes its goal, the overall crime numbers in Winnipeg will rise.  Unless of course the police service steps away from its over-reliance on reactionary policing and uses the principles embodied in the auto theft strategy to address other areas of crime.   This would not be all that difficult to do now that a working prototype has been created.

If, on the other hand, the service continues with its current “back to the future” course of reactive policing methods,  crime will increase in Winnipeg.  It seems that the current administration is bent on re-creating a policing model from the 1970’s and 1980’s that relies heavily on reactive tactics, a show of force and use of force approaches using SWAT teams and a general avoidance of innovative approaches.

The city recently spent close to a half a million dollars on a CCTV pilot project, to watch citizens in the downtown area.  Perhaps if the City spends another 2 million on a helicopter and perhaps a few additional SWAT teams we can recreate the Los Angles Police Department of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Or should we stop and ask if that is the type of policing we want in Winnipeg.  I think Rodney King and a host of people who belong to  minority groups in Winnipeg would say no.

Perhaps its time for the Winnipeg Police Service to revisit the principles of policing laid down by Sir Robert Peel.  Perhaps we need to start measuring the performance of the police not by the amount of activity the police engage in but rather by the absence of crime.

*Statistic on crime in Winnipeg taken from the Winnipeg Police Service Crimestat site on 09 07 21