Lethbridge officials react to region’s high crime severity index ranking

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WATCH ABOVE: City of Lethbridge and police officials say they are disappointed to see the Lethbridge census metropolitan area rank first for a second year in a crime severity index report by Statistics Canada. Emily Olsen reports – Oct 30, 2020

The Lethbridge region is leading the pack for a second year in a new report from Statistics Canada outlining the crime severity index from police reported crime year to year.

“Unfortunately this is not a new challenge for us, and we saw similar numbers in 2018, which speaks to our ongoing drug crisis and the petty crime that goes along with that,” Lethbridge mayor Chris Spearman said.

Read more: StatsCan: Crime Severity Index report ranks Lethbridge at No. 1

The Lethbridge census metropolitan area is leading in:

  • total crime
  • violent crime
  • property crime
  • other Criminal Code offences
  • drug offences
  • sexual assault
  • breaking and entering
  • fraud

The Lethbridge census metropolitan area includes surrounding communities like Coaldale, Barons and Picture Butte.

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RCMP officials say breaking and entering is the leading factor in crime rates in those jurisdictions, but Picture Butte’s rate has decreased since 2018.

Spearman said it’s important to take into account data from other Alberta centres not included in the report.

“You can rarely find a way to compare apples to apples,” Spearman said Friday. “For example, if we compare Lethbridge to all Alberta communities, we’re actually No. 47.”

Read more: Lethbridge continues to move up Maclean’s list of Canada’s most dangerous places

Gary Barron, a crime statistics expert and instructor with the Centre for Justice and Human Services at Lethbridge, agrees that context is key.

“The crimes that make Lethbridge No. 1 are different than the ones in other cities,” he explained. “Shoplifting (and breaking and entering) are the ones that were highlighted as driving the high numbers in Lethbridge currently. Whereas in other cities, it’s homicide, attempted murder… some really scary stuff comparatively.”

Barron said ranking systems like this one can drive a lot of unnecessary fear.

“We do know statistics on actual crime and the level of actual crime is very different from people’s perceptions of crime,” he said. “People are always perceiving that crime is going up and getting worse, even though we know that crime has been going down for a long period of time.”

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Read more: Lethbridge selected as only Canadian police service in new accountability training program

Lethbridge police officials say much of the reported crime could be tied to factors like addiction, job loss and poverty, as well as an increase in the reporting of sexual and domestic assaults. However, they did not have concrete data on contributing factors available Friday.

Spearman said he is looking forward to housing and programming promised by the province, which will provide support to those struggling with poverty and addiction and may consequently decrease crime rates in the city.