Edmonton

What the crime severity index doesn't tell you about Edmonton's crime rate

Recent statistics from Statistics Canada show Edmonton is one of Canada's most crime-ridden cities, but the numbers don't tell the whole story, a sociologist says.

Edmonton's CSI has been higher than the national average for 8 years — but it doesn't tell the whole story

A piece of police tape from a recent Edmonton crime scene. Edmonton's crime severity index is high, but that doesn't mean the city is not safe, a sociologist says. (CBC News)

Recent statistics from Statistics Canada show Edmonton is one of Canada's most crime-ridden cities, but the numbers don't tell the whole story, a sociologist says.

Various media outlets — including CBC News — have reported on the crime severity index (CSI), which tracks the severity of police-reported crime. The index takes into account how much crime is reported and the seriousness of the crimes.

But Sandra Bucerius, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta, said though Edmonton's crime severity index is consistently high, just like any statistic, context matters.

"When you have a relatively high crime severity index, it's usually driven by severe violent crimes, like homicides for example," Bucerius said. "That doesn't equate to higher risk for the public."

The CSI is calculated using an analysis of incarceration rate and how much jail time is given for each offence. Each crime is given a certain weight and is adjusted depending on the city's population.

According to 2017 statistics, Edmonton has the second-highest CSI in the country. Saskatoon is first, with Regina in third.

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Since 2010, the gap between Edmonton's CSI and the Canadian average has been growing. 

Bucerius said there have been "all sorts of studies" that show about 50 per cent of city crime happens in three per cent of places. She also said a majority of the more severe violent crime is between people who know each other. 

Alberta has the lowest average age of all the provinces — and since the most violent crime per 100,000 people is committed by people aged 18 to 24, a younger city like Edmonton will likely have a higher crime rate, Bucerius said.

The city also has the second-largest urban Indigenous population in the country, many of whom are young but are also over-policed and over-incarcerated, she said.

So while the CSI is still a good measure of crime — it's important to take all the factors into consideration before deciding a city is unsafe, Bucerius said.

"The general public is usually not at a greater risk if you live in a city that has a higher crime rate," Bucerius said. "Your feelings of safety are often driven by perception."

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