Winnipeg struggles to shake 'murder capital' reputation

The murder rate is down in Winnipeg and yet the rest of Canada still thinks Manitoba's capital is the most dangerous place in the country.

Despite a falling homicide rate, Winnipeg still viewed as most dangerous city: poll

Winnipeg police were kept busy Saturday night with a man who allegedly went on a stolen car rampage. (CBC)

If there's one city in Canada people don't want to be caught walking around alone at night in, it's Winnipeg.

A recent poll by Mainstreet looked at people's perception of danger and found Canadians perceive Winnipeg to be the country's sketchiest city.

The findings are based on people's feelings, not facts, and that's crucial to underscore, says Michael Weinrath, professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg.

The gut twinge and adrenaline rush we get when confronted with danger is a powerful force, but it should not overrule good sense.

"Winnipeg had a long run at being the homicide capital — a very catchy term — and so I think that's embedded in a lot of people's minds," Weinrath said.

"It's difficult to get rid of that."

The city has become nearly synonymous with homicide, leading to the unfortunate social media hashtag #murderpeg.

But the hashtag and fear don't tell the whole story.

Homicide down in Winnipeg

While it is true Winnipeg has posted the highest homicide rates in Canada in the past, the rate has fallen recently. 

Last year, it declined 20 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. In 2015, there were 22 homicides in Winnipeg compared to 27 the year before, the agency said.

Overall crime is down as well. In the past ten years, Winnipeg has seen the biggest drop in crime in Canada — down 47 per cent since 2005.

In 2015, Winnipeg's crime severity index (CSI) was seventh out of the 33 Census Metropolitan Areas, said Statistics Canada.

On the flip side, Manitoba's capital did post the highest violent crime severity index in Canada last year — a measure which includes murder, assault, and robbery — with 122.1 incidents out of 100,000.

Weinrath cautions people from reading too much into crime statistics. One overwhelming truth is that violent crime tends to affect only a narrow fraction of society — namely minority groups living in poverty.

"The greater concern to me is if you look at who is victimized by violent crime … a very enduring correlation is the association between low income and being the victim of violent crime," said Weinrath.

Tyshaun Jones lives in Winnipeg's North End. He told CBC on Tuesday many crimes, including stabbings and gun violence, are common where he lives.

"In terms of violence in general, it's pretty crazy," said Jones.

"Most of the stuff that happens here doesn't get put on the news."

Rachel McAuley says she doesn't feel unsafe in Winnipeg. (Chris Read/CBC)

Winnipeg resident Rachel McAuley said much of the crime would be prevented if more community supports were in place for vulnerable people.

"I personally feel safe because I can see that people are just hurt and they need help," she said.

Alba Lopez Gomez, who has worked in Winnipeg's downtown core for 17 years shares her view. While Lopez Gomez spends most of her working day visiting clients in the community, she has never felt at risk.

"I have never felt unsafe or that something might happen," she said.

For most people who pass through downtown Winnipeg, even in areas known for higher incidents of crime, they are unlikely to ever have a close call or a brush with violent crime, said Weinrath.

"We have the odd thing that happens downtown I guess during the day, but that also happens in different parts of the city as well," he said.

While views like those of Lopez Gomez and McAuley are becoming more common in Winnipeg, Weinrath said to truly move past the murder capital reputation, Winnipeg has to commit to preventing violence in the vulnerable communities where it posses the highest risk.

"I think we need to invest more in dealing with our minorities who are disadvantaged and disproportionately the victims of crime," he said.

"We have some deficits. They're going to take a while to tackle."

with files from Chris Read


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