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A much-needed reality check on crime for the Winnipeg Free Press

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeggers are just a bunch of big babies, spooked by their own shadows.

We're too ignorant to understand crime statistics, unlike the brilliant analysts at the newspaper who see clearly that we suffer from a distorted fear of crime, when the actual risk is just in our heads.

The FP has published two Pollyanna-ish stories this week celebrating a drop in crime and chiding readers for being fear mongers.

But it's the condescending and insulting analysis of the stats by the newspaper's "crime" reporter Mike McIntyre that needs to be addressed most, because virtually every sentence he wrote is woefully wrong.

According to McIntrye, Winnipeg citizens need a reality check, some perspective in looking at crime reports, and only a little common sense to avoid becoming a statistic.

Winnipeg, he declared, is not a city under siege by criminals.

Too bad he doesn't read his own newspaper.

It was barely five months ago, in February, that Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen offered some sage advice to the public, through the pages of the Free Press,

"Police are warning people not to walk alone on city streets after a 34-year-old woman was swarmed and injured with a sharp object in a West End mugging during rush hour Friday." wrote Alexandra Paul (Woman swarmed during rush hour, Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 9, 2009)

When the police department tells people the streets are unsafe for anyone walking alone, then you know there's a big, big problem.

That, is your reality check.

Muggings are up 38 percent this year over last already. It's worse than it was in February. You want perspective? On average almost 30 people a day are robbed, and the attacks are getting more violent, more widespread, and more brazen, often taking place in broad daylight.

The "crime severity rate", which measures violent crime in a city or province, dropped 14 percent in Manitoba in 2008. And Winnipeg was STILL the murder capital of Canada, the car theft capital, and the robbery capital. And "near the top of the list of other violent crimes", McIntyre admits.

Wow. That's reassuring. Take a big chunk out of reported crimes and we still outpace every other city of similar size.

Silly us. We thought that was bad.

But then McIntyre provides his own reality check.
"There is a very small percentage of our population causing the majority of the problems."

And so what? It's not the number of criminals, it's the number of victims that makes the city unsafe. Shouldn't that be obvious?

where, in this analysis, do you count the number of crack houses, the amount of gang graffitti, the intimidation of school children and residents, the nightly sound of gunshots, and the "convicted" criminals out on parole, probation, mandatory release?

Oh, thought so. You don't. You ignore these signs of crime in a neighbourhood. Well, so much for common sense.

McIntyre tries to hold out the drop in car theft as a shining example of how the city is getting safer.

But consider that over the past 10 years, 100,000 cars in Winnipeg have been stolen or damaged in an attempt to steal. That's in a city of barely 635,000 citizens.

Everyone knows someone who has had his car stolen, or has had his own car stolen or damaged by thieves. And the effect is cumulative. If your car was stolen in 1999, you've been reminded of it every year since as the car theft problem has escalated year over year.

McIntyre credits the turnaround in car thefts in 2008 to judges who "finally began to catch on" and started to keep car thieves in jail instead of releasing them on bail or probation.

You mean they finally did what the public has been pleading with them to do for 10 years?

Justice Minister Dave Chomiak is painted as the new saviour of Winnipeg, in McIntyre's analysis, for a newly announced plan to get tough with gangs. His new new gang strategy offers "some hope that similar success could be achieved in the long haul."

That's the only mention of gangs in the article. And mercifully, the only mention of Chomiak, who, with the rest of his NDP colleagues, has been in office for 10 years, a good definition of "the long haul."

The NDP loudly announced upon taking office in 1999 that they were abandoning the punitive approach to gang fighting followed by the previous government. They would henceforth apply a "holistic" approach to gangs.

How's that worked out?

Oh yes, street gangs have now expanded across the city, in every school, wreaking havoc on neighbourhoods from one end of the city to another.

Has Chomiak suddenly realized how wrong the NDP was? Or
does the coming provincial election of 2011 have anything to do with turning the NDP into born-again crimefighters?

McIntrye doesn't say anything about Chomiak's credibility... Hallway medicine, anyone?

But he does dip into his personal knowledge of crime, or should we say of covering courts.

"Further proof of the relatively small criminal element that exists can be found by scanning th daily docket at the downtown Law Courts, which I've been doing for the past 10 years."

Same names and faces. Same excuses.

"A serious over-representation of aboriginals."
"This is not politically incorrect. It is reality."

No, the reality is, that there are not enough aboriginals arrested.

"Aboriginal in appearance" seems to be the description of the vast majority of violent criminals still not apprehended.

- The television stations recently broadcast video of a hulking thug choking a female store employee unconscious without a care in the world. Aboriginal in appearance, as were his two accomplices.

- A surveillance photo taken in a taxi of a very stupid armed robber appears in the newspaper. Aboriginal in appearance.

- A rampaging gang of knife-wielding individuals kills one man, stabs another repeatedly, car jacks a couple that tried to help the wounded man….aboriginal in appearance.

That is politically incorrect. And also the reality of life in Winnipeg.

McIntyre says people need to put robbery in Winnipeg into "proper context."

"Most of these are occurring in a relatively small area of the city, usually late at night, often involving a handful of individuals, and ususally influenced by booze and drugs."

Why we should care what fuels the robbers, is a mystery.

Should we fear them less because they're drunk or doped-up? Or is that a convenient excuse for the judge for any level of violence during the robbery?

"A relatively small area of the city"?

Residents of the North End, the city centre and the West End are overwhelmed by reports of criminal activity. That's from Broadway north to West Kildonan, from the Red River to McPhillips, south across the Midtown and Osborne bridges to Corydon, and creeping west along Portage, Sargent and Ellice.

What's that area, 20 percent of the city? 25 percent?
You call that relatively small?

"A handful of individuals"? Individuals who are the beneficiaries of the revolving-door, double-time justice, so they can victimize as many people as possible in their criminal lives.

"We shouldn't assume the city is under siege," declared McIntyre.

A proper analysis of crime statistics proves just the opposite.

When a 77-year-old woman was mugged this week at 9: 30 in the morning, the statistics show one crime, and presumably one victim.

But if she had grown children, who now fear for their mother's safety every single day, the number of direct victims of the crime has doubled or tripled. If they have spouses, it's doubled again. Grandchildren who love their grandmother? Her close friends? Her neighbours?

Every robbed store clerk has a boss and co-workers. Each and every one of them will be touched by the same crime.
They too are victims, even if they are one step removed.

And the news of the mugging of a 77-year-old sent fear through every woman in her Seventies, or Sixties, or even Fifties. And through their families. Now the simple act of walking alone on a city street is fraught with danger.

How do the crime statistics measure the ripple effect of a single crime?

And each of those people directly or indirectly affected tells one other person.

McIntyre lectures Winnipeggers for losing perspective. But it's his one-dimensional approach to crime that fails the test.

"Does a person in Montreal not have to worry about getting robbed because they only have 151 robberies per 100,000 people, compared to our 223?" asks the Free Press reporter.

If everyone in Montreal had had his or her car stolen, or knew a co-worker who had, then the fear index in Montreal would be as high as Winnipeg.

And, to add more perspective, the residents of Winnipeg don't compare crime in the city to crime in other cities. They compare the Winnipeg of today to Winnipeg five years ago, Winnipeg ten years ago, Winnipeg 20 years ago. And the comparison is enough to make your hair stand on end.

There was a time not so long ago when nobody had the slightest concern about walking the street at any time of day or night. Downtown was safe by any standard. You went to bed and never imagined your car wouldn't be where you left it when you got up. When a drive-by shooting was so out-of-the-ordinary it made the front pages of the newspapers.

We're not talking a century ago or a generation ago. Try the Eighties.

"Numbers will fluctuate and really don't tell the true story. People do," McIntrye concluded.

So start listening to the people.

Get out of the court house and start walking the streets of Winnipeg.

You'll get an earful.

And an education.

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