Inner City Diary
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We're the victims of this year's crime stats
August 8, 2004
For the past few weeks, criminologists, politicians and journalists have been analysing the 2003 stats regarding crime.

For the past few months, residents of the West End have been living the 2004 realities of crime.

That's part of the problem. The experts are always behind the times.  

They have the privilege of spinning the post-mortems of last year's crime while we become the victims of this year's crime. While they pontificate about causes or politicize old numbers, we're stuck with an ever-present reality.

It's no wonder they have a more cavalier approach to crime. Most of them don't live in neighbourhoods like ours. They don't shop here. They don't raise their kids here.

Maybe it's not fair to think that people don't care as much about our problems just because they don't live here. But there are reasons for doubt.

It would be normal to question a homebuilder's commitment to his job if he insisted on taking lengthy vacations during summers. Or a teacher's commitment if they insisted on taking their breaks in fall instead of summer.

It would be normal to question an accountant's or financial planner's dedication if he insisted on taking vacations during RRSP season and tax time.

Yet the city's collective agreement with police unions forces cops to use any excess vacation time in springtime. That's exactly the time the craziness intensifies in our neighbourhood after a long winter inside. Thugs stake out their turf. Gangsters set the tone for the summer.

Spring and summer are the worst time for the bulk of police officers to take vacation. I've even talked to cops who admit the bad timing.

There are other ways police schedules sure don't seem to match the crime schedules in our neighbourhoods. Evenings and weekends are prime time for crooks, but breaktime for some of the cops we need the most.

Don't get me wrong! I know some cops have tried to address the scheduling mess. Besides, even if they worked 24 hours, they can't do it all alone!

If they worked all summer and busted all the bad guys, they'd pass them on to courts that have virtually cleared out for the summer. Mind you, some judges are more useless to justice when they're sitting in court than when they're out at the cottage. And some lawyers siphon outrageous public and private funds to juggle outlandish numbers of cases. But many would serve us well if they were here to serve us.

Not to be outdone, politicians have increased their salaries even as they've decreased their time of accountability to the public.

With most of us, our salary is commensurate with our performance -- or at least presence -- when our employers need us. Cottageless, we live year-round with a reality some people are paid well (with our money) to escape.

The spring and summer crime waves might calm if schedules of public servants were more open to scrutiny. But it's difficult to get accountability for their time when they're not accountable for some exorbitant salaries or inefficient expenditures of public funds.

Aside from scheduling problems, I don't think crime stats are dependable indicators of what's happening on the streets.

Stats can be deceiving.

Just because stats on crime are higher doesn't have to mean things are getting worse. Like in New York, higher crime stats can be an important indicator of increasing effectiveness and improving co-operation with citizens, cops and courts.

Conversely, lower crime stats don't necessarily mean that things are getting better. It could mean that more crimes are going unreported -- or unrecorded as incidents.

In our neighbourhood cops sometimes don't even get called because people are cynical about the very system which was instituted to protect them. Some crimes go unreported because people believe they likely won't be prosecuted successfully by the courts.

Sometimes crimes are not reported because people are nervous. Some fear reprisals of thugs. Others fear their insurance companies. Some companies seem only too happy to seize every opportunity to raise rates and redline communities.

Sometimes community groups and activists don't want to talk about the bad things in their neighbourhood because they don't want to detract from all the good things going on.

Some crimes are missed because they're re-categorized under some more politically expedient label.

Friends and I have experienced two thefts in which we recovered the goods, two attempted muggings, two death threats, and two assaults. That's just this spring and summer! I don't know about you but for me, crime jumped 800%.

Other residents have had similar experiences.

Next year the experts will once again pontificate and politicize this year's crime stats. I'm not sure if our numbers will even make it into their reports.

But I'm even less sure that my experience will be reflected in their comments. They're not around long enough to really understand.
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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