Nothin’ but the facts – Not!

Toronto is safer than it’s been in years, says a prominent criminologist.

And that goes against what Toronto’s police chief-designate, Julian Fantino, said in interviews in January with several local papers.

Fantino said the drop in crime rates over the past few years is misleading and shouldn’t lead to complacency. “We ought not to be complacent or comforted by some of these very marginal drops in crime,” he told the Toronto Star.

But Rosemary Gartner, the director of the Centre Of Criminology at the University Of Toronto, disagrees.

“It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s not a statistical blip. We’ve had

several years across Canada, the US and even Europe, of a drop in violent crime.”

According to Statistics Canada, crime in Canada dropped in 1998 for the seventh straight year. The crime rate has dropped 21.7 percent since 1991. According to Toronto police figures from 1998, reported crime rates have dropped for five straight years.

Gartner says she doesn’t think Canadians have ever been relaxed about crime.

“I’m from the US originally. One of the things I find refreshing about

Canada is that people aren’t complacent about violence. Nor should they be.”

Gartner also says that Toronto is no more unsafe than anywhere else in Canada.

“Toronto typically has about the national average for violent crimes.

That’s unusual because it means, in Canada, most violent crime isn’t urban. That’s very different from the US, where large cities typically have much higher rates. Toronto’s homicide rate

hovers around two per 100,000, while in the US, most large cities are around 10 per 100,000.”

Gartner agrees, though, that there’s no guarantee that the downward

trend will continue. She says criminologists can’t pinpoint a reason behind the decline in crime.

“It has to do with changes in policing, especially more community

policing, the economy, demographics. A very small decline could be attributed to the decline in people aged 15-29. People are saying there’s a bulge of kids about 10 now, and we’ll see an increase in the crime rate in about five years.”

But Fantino is quoted as saying that youth crime continues to be a

problem now, that rates have increased 77 percent between 1988 and 1998.

Gartner says that Fantino is using misleading statistics himself.

“He did a kind of weird dance, where he said statistics are misleading, and then he pulled out statistics. We’ve seen a big increase over the past 10 to 15 years in assaults by youth, but most of those have been level-one [non-serious] assaults. Schools adopting zero-tolerance policies has meant much more reporting of stuff that used to be ignored.”

Gartner says she thinks Fantino is trying to push a tough-on-crime

message, which she disagrees with.

“There’s an awful lot of research on getting tough on crime – increased prison sentences, sending people to jail for offences they wouldn’t normally be sentenced for – that shows it has little or a counter-productive effect.


“And the question I would always have about increasing police spending is looking at whether that dollar spent somewhere else – whether that be educational or early childhood programs – would be more effective.”

Krishna Rau

Krishna Rau is a Toronto-based freelance writer with extensive experience covering queer issues.

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