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Lethbridge has 47th highest crime rate in Alberta

Lethbridge’s crime severity dropped last year, compared to 2019, making two years in a row the city has seen decreasing crime rates.

Yesterday, Statistics Canada released their country-wide 2020 crime severity index data.

When the local media reported on this update, they highlighted Lethbridge’s high ranking (see here and here), but I wanted to cover some details and context that seem to have been missed.

According to the data, Lethbridge had the highest crime severity index, at 138.65, which is down from 141.79 the year before. The next highest, Winnipeg, is about 20 points lower at 116.29, and the next highest Alberta city is Edmonton, which is in 6th place at 104.78. Calgary is below 100 at 77.98, dropping them to 14th place; last year they were in the top 10.

So, even though Lethbridge’s crime rate has dropped, it still has the highest in the country and the spread between it and Winnipeg doubled over last year.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 the last 2 years when the 2018 and 2019 CSI stats were released and Lethbridge was the top city both times, too.

Let’s look at the data before and after the SCS opened then.

YearCSI
2016103.45
2017124.50
2018138.73
2019141.79
2020138.65

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 every year while the CSI was open. Plus, in 2019, it was at its highest point over the last 5 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 previous 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 was slowing down. So it’s not surprising with a decreasing rate of growth in the crime rate, we’d eventually see an actual decrease in the CSI, as we did last year.

And while some people might be quick to conclude that since the SCS closed down part way through 2020, it’d make sense that crime would drop, as I said, the CSI was already growing more slowly each year, so it was trending down anyhow.

Third, let’s compare the CSI to just the crime reported by the LPS, for only the city of Lethbridge.

YearLethbridge CMACity of Lethbridge
2016103.45121.06
2017124.50140.42
2018138.73160.58
2019141.79159.60
2020138.65157.05

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 138.65 for the CMA to nearly 160 for the city proper.

But.

If we look a bit closer at the city-only data, we actually see that the CSI dropped the last 2 years, 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 in the province, even though its CSI is higher without the county.

Chateh781.18
Piikani Nation651.67
Blood Tribe (Standoff)591.40
Maskwacis547.94
Wood Buffalo484.87
Tsuut’ina479.60
Elk Point471.19
Red Earth Creek423.80
St. Paul406.92
Desmarais374.06
Gleichen345.50
Wetaskiwin332.80
St. Paul325.13
Cold Lake322.20
High Level317.95
Bonnyville288.55
High Prairie286.56
Lakeshore Regional281.71
Valleyview272.94
Fox Creek272.25
Lac La Biche271.68
Rocky Mountain House245.29
Boyle238.49
Athabasca236.46
Fort Chipewyan234.60
Peace River233.13
Rocky Mountain House231.54
Drayton Valley225.44
Mayerthorpe224.67
Smoky Lake224.12
Westlock204.43
Slave Lake203.17
Lloydminster201.67
Edson194.59
Ponoka194.50
Stettler187.76
Bonnyville182.88
Vegreville178.64
Leduc177.71
Breton170.77
Cold Lake170.65
Grande Cache169.30
Vegreville168.06
Red Deer165.64
Peace River165.45
Grande Prairie164.94
Lethbridge157.05

Fourth, this drop in crime severity follows a multi-year trend of falling CSI increases, as I pointed out two summers ago.

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 14.28% during its first year (compared to 16.04% 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 2018 wasn’t the highest. In 1999, for example, the CSI was 181.49—more than 20 points higher than it was in 2019—and that was nearly 20 years before the SCS 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.

2017201820192020
CSI140.42160.58159.60157.05
Change over previous year16.04%14.28%0.17%-2.34%
Violent CSI99.44116.40118.44122.00
Change over previous year18.66%17.06%1.75%2.56%
Non-violent CSI154.83176.09174.03169.29
Change over previous year15.39%13.73%-1.17-3.53%

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. And although the violent CSI increased last year, that increase, once again, was much lower than the increase seen between 2017 and 2018.

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.

By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 4 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

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