City again ranked in top 10 for violent crime

Mickey Dumont

The Portage Citizen

The police, politicians and Stats Canada warn you can’t judge a community solely by the numbers revealed this week in the recent Stats Canada Severe Crime Index (CSI) report.

Portage la Prairie again is in the unenviable national spotlight as being in the top 10 worst ranked communities in Canada with populations over 10,000. The city recorded a 23 per cent increase in CSI measurement in 2017 Stats Can reports.

The CSI is published annually by Statistics Canada based on reporting from police services — this year 302 reporting — from across the country. All crimes reported to police are given a numerical weight determined by severity — based on court data, maximum sentences and actual sentences. Every single violation is given a severity weight to contribute to the overall value for the given municipality. Weights are updated every five years to reflect any changes to the Criminal Code of Canada or sentencing.

Mary Allen, Statistics Canada analyst, says while numbers don’t lie, “they can be very deceiving.”

In Portage la Prairie the CSI increase was larger for non-violent than violent crime “which suggests that some of the increase was probably due to non-violent offences,” the analyst said. “At the same time there was a larger increase in the rate of violent crime than in the rate of property crime,” Allen said. There was a 9 per cent increase in the rate of violent crime and a 5 per cent rate increase in property crime.

According to the CSI report, there was a 9 per cent increase in violent crime in Portage la Prairie in 2017 and overall the crime rate went up 12 per cent.

“The fact that the CSI went up more than the crime rate tells you there was an increase in the relative seriousness of the offences that occurred.

The CSI last year was 191.4 and this year is 231.1. Manitoba overall was 118. Winnipeg 106.9, a 4 per cent increase while Canada overall the CSI is 72.9.

The CSI, explains Allen, allows a community to compare itself to other jurisdictions. “It allows you to give a sense in the differences in the volume and severity of crime.

Again, numbers can be deceiving. The 9 per cent increase recorded in Portage la Prairie for violent offences “wasn’t for all violent offences,” Allen said. “There were some (offences) that went down, but somewhere there was a notable increase — that was with some of the more serious offences and the counts were quite low.

“There was an increase in total sexual violations against children, that only went from three to six incidents in 2017 but those carry a high weight in the Crime Severity Index. In addition assault against a peace officer (offences) also went up (19 offences in 2016 to 25 in 2017), also relatively serious offences and there was an increase (17 offences in 2016 to 20 in 2017). There was also a relatively large increase in uttering threats, criminal harassment and indecent or harassing communications.

The most notable increases in property crime were breaking and entering, possession of stolen property and motor vehicle theft — three of the most serious property crimes.

“So again, that’s where you have a relatively small increase in the rate, but a very large increase in the CSI because the increase was due to more serious offences,” the Stats Can analyst explained.

“If I look at the Crime Severity Index (historical data) for Portage la Prairie, in 2006 it was 272. It changes a lot from year-to-year and happens a lot in an area where you have a relatively small population. A handful of really serious offences can have a huge impact on the CSI — even for larger cities. One murder in Thompson would change its CSI considerably.”

The 231 CSI rating for 2018, therefore, is not telling a whole story about Portage la Prairie. Last year the CSI dropped, but the city remained in the top 10 for crime in Canada.

2015 CSI numbers recorded a lower rating; in 2012-13 again there was a lower CSI. In some years the CSI has dropped considerably and in others risen seemingly (deceivingly) at an alarming rate.

“When you are looking at the CSI for Portage la Prairie, it definitely shows that crime is more severe, or there is more crime than there is in Manitoba on average, but it would be really important to look at what the actual changes are for specific offences.”

The analyst cautions not to take the raw data at face value. “You have to look at what the nature of the reported crime. When you are a small community really looking at the individual changes in specific kinds of violations will tell you more of the story of what’s happening than just looking at the CSI.”

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