Editorial – September 2013
The national and international news media have been reporting a lot recently on an interesting phenomenon: a steady, widespread drop in crime rates across just about every country and region in the developed world.
By Patrick Flannery
The national and international news media have been reporting a lot recently on an interesting phenomenon: a steady, widespread drop in crime rates across just about every country and region in the developed world. The drop is seen in just about every type of crime, including crimes of violence and theft, and has been trending this way ever since the ’90s. It is partly explained by demographics; young men always commit the most crimes in a society, and there are fewer and fewer of them as a percentage of the population throughout the regions examined. However, many commentators, including The Economist, say the trend cannot be explained entirely by this effect. Other factors discussed include stiffer prison sentences (though this does not apply to some areas, including Canada), more generous welfare, better policing and security systems, easier access to abortion (controversy!), better child and youth services and even the notion that video games might be keeping potentially troublesome youth off the street. Whatever the cause, we are apparently living in an era of blissful security not seen since the ’60s.
With its typical perversity, the universe has chosen this moment to bring concerns about security to the forefront in the Canadian rental industry. This week, CRA president Jeff Campbell’s shop, St. Thomas Rent-All, was broken into and several pieces of light equipment stolen (see page 9). If you have ever seen Campbell’s shop, you will agree that you could hardly imagine a safer-seeming location, nestled in a leafy residential neighbourhood of a sleepy little town just west of London, Ont. Our back page columnist, Mark Borkowski (page 46), is alerting us to the many forms fraud can take in the business world, which brings to mind the recent scam where several equipment dealers were bilked out of thousands of dollars of equipment with fake bank drafts. On a more general level, my sense is that people are not sharing the newspapers’ glowing appraisal of our safety.
So what occasions this strange disjunction between statistics and experience? Some commentators have suggested that fewer crimes are reported to the police, and are therefore not showing up in the official statistics, but their evidence for this supposition is weak and usually anecdotal. Why would you be any less likely to report a theft to police nowadays, when you still need the report number to make an insurance claim? And haven’t police become more reactive, not less, to violent crimes?
My theory is that we are living in a time of unprecedented awareness of security risks, and unprecedented sensitivity to those risks. As lifestyles have improved, leading to a heightened sense of well-being throughout the Western world (another statistical fact with which many will disagree), we have become a society with an uncomfortable awareness of how much we have to lose. Risks and danger are intolerable to us. Safety organizations use slogans like “The Road to Zero,” implying that workplaces can and should be made completely free of any risk of injury. Mothers strap helmets on kids to take them for wagon rides. Video cameras glare at us from every business and street corner. Every night, we cower in front of a parade of crime and atrocity brought to us in real time by news organizations around the world. Is it any wonder that we don’t feel safe, even when our paranoia has made us safer than ever?
Perhaps the comforting take-away from all this is that basic precautions and sensible investments in security do work in aggregate, even if not always in individual situations. So take care, but try not to worry.