Yesterday, Statistics Canada released their country-wide 2019 crime severity index data.
When the local media report on this update, there’s a good chance they’ll highlight Lethbridge’s high ranking, but I wanted to cover some details and context that I’m sure will be missed.
According to the data, Lethbridge has the highest crime severity index, at 141.79. The next highest, Winnipeg, is 10 points lower at 131.71, and the next highest Alberta city is Edmonton, which is in 6th place at 114.89. Calgary is below 100 at 92.91, barely keeping them in the top 10.
So, that seems pretty bad, right?
Well, yes, kind of.
The first thing to keep in mind is that this data is for the Lethbridge census metropolitan area, not just Lethbridge itself. Statistics Canada defines the Lethbridge CMA as pretty much Lethbridge and Lethbridge County.
So, the CSI for the Lethbridge CMA includes crime reported by the Lethbridge Police Services, as well as the local RCMP detachment for crime that occurs outside Lethbridge but within the county.
Second, people who read the media coverage of this story are going to try linking it to the supervised consumption site, just as they did last summer when the 2018 CSI stats were released and Lethbridge was the top city then, too.
Let’s look at the data before and after the SCS opened then.
Keep in mind that Lethbridge didn’t become a CMA until 2016, so we don’t have CMA data for it prior to 2016, but there’s more coming on that in a few more paragraphs.
As you can see, the CSI for the Lethbridge CMA did increase last year over the previous year. Plus, it’s also at its highest point over the last 4 years.
However, keep in mind that the SCS didn’t open until 2018, yet the CSI increased the year before it even opened. Not only that, but that year was the largest increase in the CSI in the 4-year period.
Sure, the 2019 CSI was higher than the 2018 CSi, but the change between the two was the smallest change over the last 3 years. In fact, it was roughly 1/10 the increase of the CSI in the year before the SCS opened.
In other words the rate at which the CSI is increasing is slowing down.
Third, let’s compare the CSI to just the crime reported by the LPS, for only the city of Lethbridge.
|Year||Lethbridge CMA||City of Lethbridge|
The first thing you might notice is that the CSI jumps when you exclude county crime from the data. Quite a bit. We go from 141.79 for the CMA to nearly 160 for the city proper.
If we look a bit closer at the city-only data, we actually see that the CSI dropped last year, compared to 2018. Plus, if we include all Alberta communities (not just the CMAs of Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge), Lethbridge drops from 1st place in crime severity to 47th, even though its CSI is higher without the county.
Fourth, this drop in crime severity follows a multi-year trend of falling CSI increases, as I pointed out last summer.
Here’s what the rate of increase looks like over the past 20 years.
In 2014, crime severity skyrocketed in Lethbridge, probably fuelled by the drug crisis. This was by far the largest single-year increase over the last 20 years.
Since then, however, the rate of increase for the CSI has been trending down. And if we look specifically at the years the SCS was operating, we see that the CSI increased at only 14.36% during its first year (compared to 15.99% the year before it opened). During its second full year of operation, not only was the change in CSI smaller, it actually decreased, as I pointed out earlier.
Even though the CSI was still fairly high in 2019 (higher than it was in 2017, for example), it’s not the highest it’s ever been. Even last year wasn’t the highest. In 1999, for example, the CSI was 181.49—more than 20 points higher than it was last year—and that was nearly 20 years before the CSC opened.
If we’re going to say that the SCS caused the CSI to increase in 2018, then we must say that the SCS caused the CSI to decrease in 2019. Either that or we say that something else was affecting crime severity in Lethbridge.
One final thing. Here’s how CSI breaks down for violent and non-violent crime.
|Change over previous year||15.99%||14.36%||-0.61%|
|Change over previous year||18.66%||17.06%||1.75%|
|Change over previous year||15.39%||13.73%||-1.17|
Here, we see that for both of the first 2 years the SCS was open, crime increased at a slower rate than it did the year before it opened. In every category: generalized CSI, violent CSI, and non-violent CSI.
In 2019, not only did the violent crime severity index increase at basically 1/10th the rate it did the year before, the non-violent CSI and the generalized CSI both decreased last year.
Now, this decrease in crime severity may not mean much. Even though it seems to be part of a trend in local crime slowing down, the next few years will either confirm this trend or expose it as an anomaly.