Chinese community groups in Calgary are setting up new programs to encourage seniors, who are traditionally reluctant to speak to police, to report crimes in Chinatown.

About 1,000 seniors live in the area and many have either witnessed or been a victim of crime, but the crime statistics for Chinatown are misleadingly low, community groups say.

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The Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre is a landmark in Chinatown, where, community groups say, crime is worse than statistics suggest. ((Calgary Downtown Association))

In 2007, 14 street robberies per 1,000 population in Chinatown were reported to the Calgary Police Service, compared to more than five times that in the neighbouring downtown commercial core, with 77 street robberies.

That same year, statistics show 25 assaults per 1,000 population in Chinatown compared to 224 downtown, just a few blocks away.

"The city police always have been saying this for years: 'Chinatown, there's no crime.' We all know it's not true," said Const. Sean Chu, who patrols the area.

"The reason why? The community do not report for various reasons. Number one, the language barrier. Second one, I think is a trust issue because traditionally in Asian communities they do not trust the police."

Stories of break-ins, robberies

Leung Wan Sun, 84, no longer goes alone to her weekly mah-jong game at the Chinese Elderly Citizens' Association after she was robbed near the front steps.

"I saw two elderly women fall down," she told CBC News in Cantonese. "I approached them to offer help, only to find they had been pushed and robbed by two Caucasian men. By the time I realized this, they had already rushed toward me and grabbed my bag."

Staff at the centre no longer leave the building alone at night.

"We really feel a little bit scared coming to work every day, and I'm much younger than my seniors and I feel really scared, too," said program manager Liza Chan.

Hwang Han Si, the building's janitor, said thieves once broke into the library and stole the money from the charity jar. He said he also regularly finds used needles on the front lawn.

Workshops for seniors

To give police a more accurate picture of crime in one of Calgary's oldest communities, non-profit groups are starting a Block Watch program for the area. They're also running workshops for seniors.

"I'm doing a talk to them, educate them," explained Cass Law, community development co-ordinator of the Calgary Chinese Community Service Association. "How do they report to the police, so that they prepare themselves so that if something's happened, they know how to report."

A room full of seniors at the Wai Kwan Manor recently abandoned their morning tai chi routine to memorize the non-emergency police number and learn to say "Chinese" so they can be redirected to a Cantonese or Mandarin operator if they don't speak English.

Law also told them how to describe suspects, including details like weight and height, to help investigators.

Saying her directions sounded simple enough, the seniors gave Law a round of applause at the end of her presentation.