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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Toronto the boring

Police Chief's Bill Blair "Toronto is boring" comment is right. 

First, check out how the story was covered by The Star and The Sun
Granted, statistics don't matter when the victim of a crime is yourself or a loved one. And no talk of how relatively safe Toronto is consoles a victim or the family. I totally agree and hate the use of statistics for patting victims/bereaved on the heads and saying "there there, it's not so bad, Toronto is still 'the good' ". 
And yes, gang-related violence is getting increased awareness and apparently increased activity, spilling into daylight and victimizing innocent uninvolved bystanders. Of course this isn't good. Agreed.
But, Toronto, as the biggest city in Canada, is by far a safe big city when compared to other big cities in Canada, the US, and the world. In terms of "what is the likelihood that I might be a victim of a violent crime", Toronto - for all it offers - also offers the lowest likelihood of big cities in North America. That's truth in fact. No big city is going to be able to offer 0 murders per capita in North America, human nature in this society just cannot be controlled by the state to that level of performance. Nor do we want to live in some post-apocalyptic police state dystopia - freedom comes at a price.
How does Toronto stack up? Here are some snippets:
  • in terms of murder, I found http://www.benbest.com/lifeext/murder.html#world which showed Toronto was 9th in Canada in murders per 100,000 people with 1.8. Regina was #1, at 4.72 almost 3x Toronto's number. State-side, Dallas was 10th with 15.8 murders per 100,000, over 8x Toronto. America's #1 was Washington DC with 69.3 in the late '90s, approximately 38x that of Toronto. New Orleans, with a population hovering just under half a million people, peaked at 86 murders per 100,000 in 1994, and typically averages approximately 60 murders per 100,000 which means they'll do approximately 300 murders per year in a city of 500,000 people; compare that to Toronto, 3 million people, 60 murders per year.
The actual number of crimes must change with the size of the population, so per capita statistics are a necessary ingredient when cooking up some measure for the crime of Toronto relative to other cities. And when you shake and bake the numbers, they come out showing that Toronto, for the size and demographics of the city, is about as safe as a city can be. Towards the end of February 2009, Toronto had recorded its 9th homicide of the year - that's on pace for just a little under 60 murders in a year - 1.8/100,000 x 3 million people = 54 murders. This is consistently Toronto's rate.
It's not unreasonable to suggest that people in Toronto are desensitized to the reality of crime in part because media headlines scream the world is coming to an end so frequently that folks just want to tune out, pop in a DVD after work and escape into their own little suburban world. There is more truth to that than you might first realize. Newspapers are not government mouthpieces, they are for profit organizations with stockholders looking for a return on their investment. Toronto is the 2nd most media-saturated urban centre in North America after New York City (Toronto is 2nd to NYC in a number of interesting categories). In a small town with one newspaper, you hear about a bad thing once. In Toronto, you hear about it from a number of sources, and each source in competition for your eyeballs, tries to yell their headlines a little louder than the competition, so the issues look bigger than they are.

Another issue is that bad news sells. Think about it. Airplanes take off and land all day at Pearson Airport. If everything goes smoothly, that's not news, you'll never hear about it. But one plane runs off the runway and it's all over the headlines, because that's news. We pay attention to problems more than we do when things are running smoothly. So if the media screams about the problems, and competitively scream louder and louder, it will look like things are worse than they are.
Mr. Blair's statement did not bother me; in fact it showed a sense of balance I rather like from the police, rather than emotionally blowing things out of proportion and giving in to the temptation to be sensationalist.
The criticism from the media has failed, in my opinion, to support itself with data to the contrary. The data that is available supports Mr. Blair's views, and in this case so do I.


DGA said...

Just thought I'd revisit the stats on 2009. as of the end of October, there were 44 murders. So 44 divided by 10 x 12 = 52.8 murders. Again, this is a consistent reflection of the nature of the demographics of the city of Toronto.

DA said...

There was a shooting at the Eaton Centre on June 2, 2012. The victim appears to be Toronto's 20th homicide of the year. Let's do the math: 20 homicides divided by five months equals four homicides per month thus far this year. Four homicides multiplied by twelve months equals a pace towards 48 homicides by year's end. http://www.cbc.ca/toronto/features/homicide2012/