06 March 2007

Tough on Crime

Michale Bryant (A-G Ontario) has sent a position paper to his Federal colleagues saying their 'smart on crime' approach is a loser with voters. Who could have guesses it would become public and embarrass us? Mr. Bryant could have guessed, for one, but that's water under the bridge.

I don't think crime is a very important issue, but since most voters are not criminals it's an easy wedge issue to pick for the conservatives. Liberals can either pander to uninformed voices calling for vengeance, or they can refuse to do so. I have always been of the opinion that politics should be about leadership, not about doling out legislative goodies to those who howl loudest. An example will suffice.

Generally 50-70 people are murdered in Toronto annually. I wouldn't want to be one of those people, but this is still a way lower rate than would be expected for a city of this size. And violent crime has been slowly but steadily declining since the early 90's - it's down 8% across Canada and down 12% in Toronto for the decade 1992-2001. It also dropped in 2003-2004, the last year I can find official statistics, a decline led by Toronto's urban areas in which there was a 5% year to year drop. Our homicide rate is lower than Sweden's and barely 1/3 of that in the USA. A recent uptick in murders in Toronto goes against this general downward trend; police and census people agree that it is largely due to an increase in gang violence, and as a result the average person is not any less safe, although the average gang member is much less safe.
My conclusion is that we should always be aware of crime in our society and dedicated to reducing it, but we are already being successful: our crime rate is low and trending lower. There is no reason at all that this should be a hot-button issue.

By contrast, about 2000 people drop dead in Toronto each year. The survival rate is here about 2%. This can be increased to 40% if CPR is immediately available (as in Seattle, where all students and government employees must renew annually) and to about 80% if a defibrillator becomes available within a reasonable time after starting CPR.

What the hell am I talking about? Only what we can hope to achieve right here in Toronto:

save 60 lives annually by entirely wiping out murder;
save 800+ lives annually by teaching everyone first aid and CPR; and
save 1500+ lives annually by providing public-access defibrillators in addition to CPR training.

So, shall we strive for the impossible, which would allow us to save 60 lives, or shall we strive for the eminently attainable, which would allow us to save 1000?
Unfortunately it seems our leadership will choose to forge ahead with the impossible program that can never yield substantial rewards, because everyone who's not a criminal will feel a bit better about a government that carries a big stick. Too bad it's a waste of time, resources, and political capital, but why put principle ahead of politics?


Blogger Penny said...

I don't think getting "tough on crime" will have any impact on preventing crime.

I would hazard a guess that many burglaries are likely to be drug related and most murders gang related or mental health cases.

Or the crimes are committed by people who find it a better source of income than the kind of jobs they could hold.

At any rate, jail doesn't last forever, and without some attempt at re-habilitating the residents, most will get out - with barely enough money to get downtown and no place to go - and go right back to a life of crime.

I might be a bit short on the rent, but it isn't the threat of jail time that stops me from robbing a bank. I suspect the only people who would be put off by tougher sentencing are white collar criminals.

At any rate, I'm not sure "getting tough" achieves a whole lot in any area of life. viz. this story.

March 07, 2007  

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