Crime Specialization across the Canadian Provinces

By Andresen, Martin A. | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, January 2009 | Go to article overview
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Crime Specialization across the Canadian Provinces


Andresen, Martin A., Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


I. Introduction

Crime statistics are ubiquitous in contemporary society. In both Canada and the United States, there are special government statistical bodies that solely measure criminological phenomena: the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Whether it is through the nightly newscast, national or local papers, or discussions around the coffee machine, we are inundated with statistics regarding crime: crime is going up, crime is going down, or crime is higher/lower relative to other places in the country. Indeed, we torture our students in many introductory criminological courses by placing provinces or states in national contexts and by placing our nations in international contexts. But how reliable is this information that we pass on to our students and colleagues? Many departments within the arts and social sciences (2) are split between those who accept and those who reject the quantification of social phenomena. The rejection of this quantification, in many cases, is simply a mistrust of the data or the methods of data representation. Consequently, if we are going to use quantification we must do so critically.

But is this issue restricted to the academy? Generally, no. Despite our (unnecessary?) reliance on the quantification of social phenomena (Porter 1996), there is a general mistrust of statistics in the public eye. Well known is the adage attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: There are lies, damned lies and [then there are] statistics (qtd. in Twain 1906). Compounding this general mistrust of statistics are "journalists and politicians, among others, [who] often issue declarations about crime rates ... [without encouraging the public] ... to think critically about what the crime rate measures really are" (Sacco and Kennedy 2002: 92)--Pallone (1999) presents a rather scathing attack on nightly newscasts' reporting on crime. This use and misuse of criminological statistics has implications for society at large because "[w]e may factor information about crime rates into our decisions about whether we will buy a home in a particular neighborhood, vacation in a particular place, or allow our children to attend a particular school" (Sacco and Kennedy 2002: 94).

One set of crime statistics that is particularly interesting is the pattern of Canadian provincial crime rates: a generally increasing crime rate moving east to west that has existed for at least 40 years (see Silver 2007, for a recent example of this reporting). Curiously, there has been relatively little research investigating this phenomenon, with only two studies finding statistically significant relationships. The earliest studies investigating this phenomenon (Giffen 1965; 1976) found moderate support for higher provincial crime rates being related to population growth and urbanization; Hartnagel (1978) found little support for the hypothesis that the age and sex composition of provincial populations affects provincial crime rates; Kennedy, Silverman, and Forde (1991) found that provincial homicide rates are related to income inequality and social disorganization; Hartnagel (1997) found that provinces with greater inward migration had higher crime rates; and most recently, Daly, Wilson, and Vasdev (2001) found that income inequality partially explains differences in lethal levels of violence. But how much of this pattern is truly present? Certainly, the crime rates are higher as one moves west across the Canadian landscape, but are the western provinces really more violent, for example, or is there simply more crime in general in these provinces, with the proportion of violent crime being similar to that of the rest of the provinces?

This paper adds to the criminological literature through the use of a geographical measure of crime, the location quotient. Rather than measuring crime relative to some population at risk, the location quotient measures crime specialization: what proportion of all crime committed in a given province is represented by crime X relative to what proportion of all crime committed in the whole of Canada is represented by crime X.

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