Saskatchewan’s high crime severity index not reflective of public risk, professors say

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WATCH: Saskatchewan ranked number one among the provinces in the annual crime severity index report, with Regina and Saskatoon having some of the highest crime rates among Canada's major centres – Oct 29, 2020

Saskatchewan had the highest crime severity index (CSI) of the 10 provinces last year, according to an annual report released Thursday by Statistics Canada.

The index measures the volume and seriousness of police-reported crime, weighing offences based on criminal sentences.

The new data isn’t surprising, as prairie provinces typically top the list, according to Rick Ruddell, a justice studies professor and police studies chair with the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan.

Read more: 2 Saskatchewan cities ranked in Canada’s most dangerous places

CSIs are based on major crimes, and don’t account for minor crimes like shoplifting, he said. For that reason, he said Saskatchewan’s index isn’t a good indicator of public risk.

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“For the average person who isn’t involved in purchasing drugs or sex or… hanging out with motorcycle club members, you’re probably at a… lesser risk of victimization,” Ruddell said in an interview.

The report makes headlines every year, with cities dubbed the “most dangerous places” in Canada based on their ranking.

Timothy Kang, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said those headlines misrepresent the statistics, as the words “dangerous” and “crime severity” are not interchangeable.

“Labelling places ‘the most dangerous’ is not necessarily a fair representation of what the statistic even is or what (Statistics Canada is) trying to do with it in the first place,” Kang told Global News.

The index considers non-violent crimes like fraud, which Kang said is weighted relatively heavy. While a high fraud rate will increase a city’s CSI, it won’t make it dangerous to walk the streets at night.

The index does not encompass all criminal activity, Kang said, as it’s based solely on police-reported crime.

Major increase in homicide

Crime rates increased everywhere but Quebec in 2019, driven by various offences, including fraud, child pornography and sexual assault, Statistics Canada said.

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Homicides increased significantly last year in Saskatchewan, largely outside of metropolitan areas, the report says. There were 55 homicides in 2020, up from 34 in 2018.

The spike is likely connected to gang activity, Ruddell said.

Eight of last year’s homicides were in Regina and 16 were in Saskatoon. Both cities’ CSIs ranked among the top five in Canada.

Severe crime in Regina and Saskatoon

Statistics Canada calculates CSIs for 35 metropolitan areas, which have populations of more than 100,000 people. Regina and Saskatoon ranked third and fifth, respectively.

Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) Chief Troy Cooper said rates of homicide, sexual offences and robbery increased in 2019.

“We’ve got issues around gang violence and around some of the violent offending that we’ve had to respond to,” Cooper told reporters Thursday afternoon. “That’s what’s been driving some of the resource needs of the police service.”

Read more: Saskatoon crime severity index top 4 among Canadian cities

The report helps police compare crime in their jurisdictions to others across Canada, he said.

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“If we think that we have a local problem, we’ll come up with local solutions,” he said. “But if we’re looking at a national issue, we might look at partnerships to address that more appropriately.”

Despite Saskatoon’s relatively high CSI, Cooper said the city is a safe place to live.

“You’re less likely to be victimized in Saskatoon now than you were a decade ago,” he said.

2019 statistics not reflective of current trends

The 2019 report was released 10 months into 2020.

The Regina Police Service (RPS) said it’s not reflective of this year’s statistics.

Read more: Regina has 2nd-highest crime severity index in the country

“There’s little analysis we can offer that would be relevant 10 months after the fact,” RPS spokesperson Elizabeth Popowich said in a news release.

In some cases, crime statistics in Regina are trending down during the COVID-19 pandemic, including those for attempted murder, sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping.

“Those stats are a more accurate picture of crime trends in Regina,” Popowich said.

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Saskatoon is experiencing a similar pattern, Cooper said, with homicide, sexual violence and fraud trending down in 2020.

“Whether or not we’ll be adjusted from fifth overall with the crime severity to some other number, I’m not sure,” he said. “But I do expect that our experience in Saskatoon will show a reduced number in crime severity overall.”

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