The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Facts defeat Professor; Facts elude CBC and National Post.

It's safe to say that the final results of the last contest of the civic election are in, and a winner can be declared.

This year, it was hard to find a candidate for election who didn't campaign on crime as the top issue. Okay, Donald Benham, the incumbent in River Heights, said roads was the big issue. But he's now looking for a new job, which shows what he knew.

The Winnipeg Free Press addressed the issue through an interview with University of Manitoba sociology professor Rick Linden. Not only is the incidence of crime on the decline, he said, but, according to "long-term studies conducted by researchers in his department", so is the actual fear of crime. ( Perspective: TALKING TOUGH, Candidates are making it a top election issue, even though there is little data to suggest crime -- or our fear of it -- is actually rising, Sun Oct 15 2006 )

Which means, he said, that concerns about crime and public safety are inflated by politicians who ignore the facts to win elections.

Unfortunately, reporters Bartley Kives and Mary Agnes Welch, like more and more Winnipeggers, don't read their own newspaper. If they did, they would have referenced the story by their colleague Bruce Owen published Dec. 31, 2005, about a Probe Research/Free Press poll on crime. (People feel safer after dark, December 31, 2005)

That story carried the absolutely astonishing news that 43 per cent of Winnipeg residents say they have been victims of crime in the past year.With a margin of error of four percent, it's possible that 47 percent, nearly half of Winnipeg, have either been victims themselves or someone in their household has been a victim of crime in the space of one year.

Now, maybe the fear of crime makes more sense. And it certainly permits us to declare the contest between professor and pollster decided, with victory going to the pollster by a landslide.

In the week since the election, newspaper readers have been deluged with crime stories.

"Girl, 12, grins as she's charged with murder."
"Slain woman not first victim?"
"Violence routine in preteen posse."
"One day in youth court"
* 20 car thefts
* 8 b&e's
* 5 serious assaults
* 3 manslaughters
*2 weapons possession
"Catch, release' justice system cited in trend."
"Teenager pleads guilty in beating death."
"Double shooting in West End. Man dead, youth hospitalized."

Ah, hah, Prof. Linden would say. There's your problem. Too much crime coverage leads to an irrational fear of crime.

"If you go back 10 years, you'll see similar stories about crime and similar fears of crime... the only difference is that we're now living in what some criminologists call a 'risk-averse society.' People drive their kids to school because they're afraid of what might happen on the streets, even though the streets are no less safe than they were years ago," he told the Free Press.

True, to a point.
He's comparing today's crime rate to the artificial checkpoint of the year 2000. Statistics Canada does report that reported crimes have declined marginally since 2000. But compared to 20 years ago, crime has rocketed into the stratosphere and remains there.

Anybody old enough to remember what it was like in 1986, which means anyone in their 30's and older, like, say the people driving their kids to school, knows how much things have changed.

In 2001, Statscan said:
"The violent crime rate is 6% less than a decade ago, but 52% higher than 20 years ago."
In 2003, Statscan said:
"The 2003 violent crime rate was 11% lower than its near-peak in 1993, but still 66% higher than 25 years ago."
In 2005, Statscan said:
"The violent crime rate was 10% lower than a decade earlier, but 35% higher than 20 years ago."

So the trend continues. And that's for violent crime. Car theft, anyone?

As for press coverage, if anything, there hasn't been enough.

A story in the Free Press ( Teen denied bail after AK-47 seized, Bruce Owen, Oct. 19, 2006 ) quoted a Crown attorney arguing against the 16-year-old's release. Police believe, she said, that there have been at least 13 shootings over the past two months as two gangs fight a turf war.


And how much of this has made the press?
We could find reports of three shootings.
· A 22-year-old drug dealer was shot and killed Oct. 17 in Elmwood.
· People inside 573 Magnus Ave. exchanged gunshots with some people across the street on Sept. 24.
· And the same day, two men in a car at Redwood and McGregor were wounded by gunshots fired from another car.

What's the story with the other ten or more shootings?

Do you think the people involved, and the their friends and family, and the people who saw or heard the shootings, and their friends and family aren't concerned about crime and public safety? Yet the academics see only three incidents in the statistics and next year they'll be telling us we're crazy to be afraid of getting hit by a stray bullet.

During the election campaign the Free Press devoted a full three or four pages to asking mayoral candidates silly questions about pop culture. But it couldn't find any space to discuss the only true initiative raised during the campaign to address crime in the city--- Mayor Sam Katz's pledge to bring a local version of New York's highly successful Comstat policing program.

He thinks he'll have it in place next year, but he's dreaming. It will take at least two years to overcome the recalcitrance of the Winnipeg police brass and union. And at least another year to begin to show results.

But if he's successful in instituting Crimestat (as he calls his version) and crime rates start falling by 10-12 percent a year, they'll be building statues to Sam at Portage and Main.

They've got a few years, maybe the Free Press will find the space to explain how the Comstat program works and how it could apply to Winnipeg.

We won't hold our breaths. In the meantime, note also how selectively the Free Press chooses who to interview for its crime stories.The fatal beating of a woman, seemingly at random, by a roaming gang of youths elicited a flurry of stories from various angles.

But nobody thought of interviewing Prof. Linden.Obviously, another lecture on how crime is not a problem, wasn't timely.

Nor did the reporters want interviews with former Liberal Party MP Reg Alcock or current Liberal MP's Anita Neville, Tina Keeper, Raymond Simard to hold them to account for the youth justice laws their government is responsible for.

Nor did they want to speak to Gord Macintosh, Manitoba's Justice Minister for six years, whose approach to crime consisted of taking trips to Ottawa to "demand" tougher laws, then returning to Winnipeg to support the re-elections of NDP MP's Pat Martin and Judy Wasylycia-Leis who routinely vote against any strengthening of laws against crime. The Free Press didn't want to talk to them, either.

There oughta be a law.

And if there was, the first to be ticketed would be the National Post and the CBC.

This week, both news agencies repeated the biggest myth of the Barbara Stoppel murder case: that chief suspect Thomas Sophonow was eventually cleared by DNA evidence.

Let's make it perfectly clear: NO HE WASN'T.

Six years later, Winnipeg Police Chief Jack Ewatski has never explained why he announced that the police department cleared Sophonow.

DNA was not a factor. Period.

That simple fact continues to elude "professional" journalists in the MSM.

Kidding aside, maybe there oughta be a law.

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