Yesterday, Statistics Canada released their country-wide 2021 crime severity index data.
When the local media reported on this update, they highlighted Lethbridge’s high ranking (see here, here, here, here, and here), but I wanted to cover some details and context that seems to have been missed.
According to the data, Lethbridge once again had the highest crime severity index, at 128.65, which is down from 138.52 the year before. The next highest, Kelowna, is about 6 points lower at 122.29, and the next highest Alberta city is Edmonton, which is in 8th place at 97.45. Calgary is at 72.27, dropping them to 17th place; last year, they were in 14th place, and the year before, they were in the top 10.
So, even though Lethbridge’s crime rate has dropped, it still has the highest in the country. That seems pretty bad, right?
Well, yes, kind of.
The first thing to keep in mind is that this data is for the Lethbridge census metropolitan area, not just Lethbridge itself, something other media outlets don’t seem to be mentioning.
Statistics Canada defines the Lethbridge CMA as pretty much Lethbridge and Lethbridge County.
So, the CSI for the Lethbridge CMA includes crime reported by the Lethbridge Police Services, as well as the local RCMP detachment for crime that occurs outside Lethbridge but within the county.
As well, in recent years, people who read the media coverage of Lethbridge’s crime rate tried linking it to the supervised consumption site. After all, the CSI for the Lethbridge CMA was the highest in the country for each of the 3 years the SCS was open.
Let’s look at the data before and after the SCS opened then.
Keep in mind that Lethbridge didn’t become a CMA until 2016, so we don’t have CMA data for it prior to 2016, but there’s more coming on that in a few more paragraphs.
As you can see, the CSI for the Lethbridge CMA did increase every year while the CSI was open. Plus, in 2019, it was at its highest point over the last 5 years.
However, keep in mind that the SCS didn’t open until 2018, yet the CSI increased the year before it even opened. Not only that, but that year was the largest increase in the CSI in the 4-year period.
Sure, the 2019 CSI was higher than the 2018 CSI, but the change between the two was the smallest change over the previous 3 years. In fact, it was roughly 1/10 the increase of the CSI in the year before the SCS opened.
In other words the rate at which the CSI is increasing was slowing down. So it’s not surprising with a decreasing rate of growth in the crime rate, we’d eventually see an actual decrease in the CSI, as we did last year.
And while some people might be quick to conclude that since the SCS closed down part way through 2020, it’d make sense that crime would drop, as I said, the CSI was already growing more slowly each year, so it was trending down anyhow.
Not only that, but the Lethbridge CMA had the highest CSI in the country in both 2017 and 2021, and the SCS wasn’t open in either of those years. And in 2016, the CSI was the fourth highest in the country.
Third, let’s compare the CSI to just the crime reported by the LPS, for only the city of Lethbridge.
|Year||Lethbridge CMA||City of Lethbridge|
The first thing you might notice is that the CSI jumps when you exclude county crime from the data. Quite a bit. We go from 128.65 for the CMA to nearly 148.93 for the city proper.
If we look a bit closer at the city-only data, we actually see that the CSI dropped the last 3 years, compared to 2018. Plus, if we include all Alberta communities (not just the CMAs of Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge), Lethbridge drops from 1st place in crime severity to 51st in the province, even though its CSI is higher without the county. And that’s a drop of 4 spots from 2020, when it was in 47th place.
|Blood Tribe (Standoff), municipal||565.20|
|Piikani Nation, rural||529.04|
|Elk Point, rural||524.73|
|Fort Chipewyan, rural||460.09|
|Wood Buffalo, rural||402.18|
|Lakeshore Regional, municipal||399.74|
|St. Paul, municipal||397.83|
|St. Paul, rural||354.61|
|Red Earth Creek, rural||328.96|
|High Level, rural||328.09|
|Cold Lake, rural||316.41|
|Lac La Biche, rural||289.34|
|Fox Creek, rural||284.51|
|High Prairie, rural||283.41|
|Smoky Lake, rural||221.85|
|Rocky Mountain House, municipal||217.28|
|Cold Lake, municipal||204.51|
|Peace River, municipal||194.29|
|Drayton Valley, municipal||185.19|
|Peace River, rural||183.05|
|Red Deer, municipal||176.39|
|Rocky Mountain House, rural||169.41|
|Slave Lake, municipal||165.10|
|Grande Prairie, municipal||154.34|
|Fort Macleod, rural||153.36|
Fourth, this drop in crime severity follows a multi-year trend of falling CSI increases, as I pointed out two summers ago.
Here’s what the rate of increase looks like over the past 20 years.
In 2014, crime severity skyrocketed in Lethbridge, probably fuelled by the drug crisis. This was by far the largest single-year increase over the last 20 years.
Since then, however, the rate of increase for the CSI has been trending down. And if we look specifically at the years the SCS was operating, we see that the CSI increased at only 14.28% during its first year (compared to 16.04% the year before it opened). During its second full year of operation, not only was the change in CSI smaller, it actually decreased, as I pointed out earlier.
Even though the CSI was still fairly high in 2019 (higher than it was in 2017, for example), it wasn’t the highest it’s ever been. Even 2018 wasn’t the highest. In 1999, for example, the CSI was 181.49—more than 20 points higher than it was in 2019—and that was nearly 20 years before the SCS opened.
If we’re going to say that the SCS caused the CSI to increase in 2018, then we must say that the SCS caused the CSI to decrease in 2019, as well as in 2020, given that it was still open for 8 months that year, before it shut down after the UCP government cancelled provincial funding.
Either that or we say that something else was affecting crime severity in Lethbridge.
One final thing. Here’s how CSI breaks down for violent and non-violent crime.
|Change over prev year||16.27%||14.61%||-0.22%||-1.53%||-6.04%|
|Change over prev year||18.95%||17.32%||1.81%||4.94%||7.12%|
|Change over prev year||15.67%||13.99%||-0.70%||-3.11%||-9.51%|
Here, we see that for both of the first 2 years the SCS was open, crime increased at a slower rate than it did the year before it opened. In every category: generalized CSI, violent CSI, and non-violent CSI.
In 2019, not only did the violent crime severity index increase at basically 1/10th the rate it did the year before, the non-violent CSI and the generalized CSI both decreased last year. And although the violent CSI increased last year, that increase, once again, was much lower than the increase seen between 2017 and 2018, as well between 2016 and 2017.
Now, this decrease in crime severity may not mean much. Even though it seems to be part of a trend in local crime slowing down, the next few years will either confirm this trend or expose it as an anomaly.