Edmonton: YEG murder title misleading

By Scott McKeen

I’m not dead yet.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you’re still breathing on your own, too.

Our collective state of animation might surprise the rest of Canada, though, given the way our city is billed these days.

Edmonton: Murder Capital of Canada.

Sigh.

It is human nature, I suppose, to reduce complex issues to slogans. And it’s true Edmonton recorded 25 homicides so far this year, tops in the nation. Last year at this time, we’d only seen eight homicides.

Mayor Stephen Mandel is upset about the murder spree, in light of another suspicious death — number 26? — over the weekend.

The mayor’s reaction is no surprise. Mandel wants answers. We all want answers.

It’s important to recognize, however, that crime statistics are notoriously dodgy. Take something like drunk-driving statistics, which also inspire fear and loathing.

The number of arrests for drunk-driving in a given period depend largely on the amount and type of enforcement launched by the local constabulary.

If cops launch a major offensive against impaired drivers, the number of charges will be alarmingly high. But if police curtail enforcement, impaired driving charges will appear reassuringly low.

We know drunks still drive our roads. But typical impaired-driving statistics reveal little about the extent or nature of the problem.

In other enforcement areas, police use discretion in encounters with the public. Some people join the realm of arrest statistics — for things like drug possession, minor assault, public intoxication — while others don’t.

Years ago I worked on an investigative report into youth crime. It exploded the myth that crimes by juveniles were increasing. What had increased, though, was police involvement in infractions that were historically dealt with by family, community or school.

So, crime statistics don’t add up. At least not easily. Add in the fact that police don’t subscribe to universal standards of recording crime, meaning city-to-city comparisons are particularly sketchy.

But we’re talking violent death here. And homicide is a pure statistic, right? If someone dies at the hand of another, it’s a homicide. No discretion or enforcement bias to muddy the waters.

Misleading murder stats?

Except even homicide statistics can mislead. Consider this: It’s actually more accurate to say Edmonton has only recorded 19 homicides in 2011, not 25.

Consider that two of the recorded homicides were cases of “officer-involved shootings.” Those incidents are under investigation and, yes, it’s possible the officers will be charged.

But use of lethal force by police is a far cry from what we typically think of as murder.

Another four of the 25 homicides don’t fit nicely, either. Two were holdovers from previous years, but added to the 2011 statistics by the medical examiner. And two other homicides were committed in correctional facilities.

So again, 25 people died in violence — 23 of them in this calendar year. And for the record, I’m not diminishing the severity or tragic nature of these crimes. People died and left friends and family to mourn.

But the public and public servants often link homicide rates to public safety. Or at least they believe a spike in murder rates reveals an increase in violence.

A report to the Edmonton Police Commission, by Supt. Danielle Campbell, doesn’t support that notion.

Campbell assured the police commission that detectives take the spike in homicides seriously. Additional investigative resources are being deployed to find the bad guys. But there is nothing in her analysis to indicate a reason for the increase in murder.

No new bad guys have arrived in town. No new drug or form of disorder can be blamed.

“There is no clear, discernible pattern that can be correlated to the spike,” Campbell told YegNews in an interview.

The fact is, she points out, violent crime overall is down. So are gang-related slayings.

The homicide numbers? Well, let’s call it a mystery.

Except the jury has already reached a verdict. Edmonton is guilty of being the murder capital of Canada.

But remember, fellow citizens. There’s always next year.

 

 

4 Responses to Edmonton: YEG murder title misleading

  1. Wow, actual journalism with critical analysis. Can it be? In Edmonton?

    Thanks Scott. You are a much-needed voice in Edmonton media.

  2. Scott, I’m so glad you’re not dead! lol
    I’m looking forward to reading you again. :-)

  3. A suggestion…can you add an option to your site so I can subscribe through my Shaw email?

  4. So glad to have access to intelligent writing, again! I’m looking forward to reading yegnews.com! Congratulations, Scott and welcome back!

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