Perception, meet reality

There is an perception common to residents of large cities that crime is rampant. Our area has an undeservedly bad reputation for crime. Here in Weston / Mount Dennis, many people react to reports of crime by moving away, staying home more often or avoiding areas concerned.


We live next to a country that does indeed have high levels of crime. Not only that but our favourite TV shows are largely American and reflect the culture of crime that exists down there. In addition, the old adage, if it bleeds it leads governs many news outlets and so violent crime often receives the bulk of attention by the media. This gives people a perception that crime levels are roughly comparable to those  of our neighbour to the south.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Generally speaking, murder is a good indicator of overall crime levels. It’s a terrible and devastating crime; seemingly unavoidable in large cities. Last year, in Chicago, a city slightly smaller than Toronto, a total of 490 people were murdered. Compare that to the 604 murdered in all of Canada in 2015 and suddenly some perspective comes into play. That same year, 55 people were murdered in Toronto, which for a city of this size, is remarkably a rare and shocking event. Toronto by many measures, is one of the safest cities in North America, yes, even compared to the rest of Canada or for that matter, Ontario it’s safe. Not only that, looking at figures from ten years ago when 79 people were murdered in the city, Toronto is safer than ever.

2014 figures. From Click to enlarge.

Looking at the raw numbers without sensational headlines, it’s possible to see a downward trend although shooting occurrences remain stubbornly high.

Toronto homicides by year.
Toronto homicides by year. From Wikipedia.

Anyone involved in statistics knows that numbers change year over year. Trends establish themselves, anomalies, (better known as blips) can occur too. When police forces and news outlets (as they have this year) proclaim things like “gun homicides are up 200%“, it’s often a short-term blip rather than a long-term trend. It does get peoples’ attention though which is the whole point if you’re trying to maintain a police budget or gather online clicks.

From Business2Community.
From Business2Community.

As the old saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics. Next time alarming crime statistics are presented in the media or by government agencies, be sure to consider the sources and their motivations before being frightened into thinking that we live in a dangerous city or community.

5 thoughts on “Perception, meet reality”

  1. It is sad to see the wriiten line”many people react to reports of crime by moving away, staying home more often or avoiding areas concerned.”
    Or not reporting incidents in fear of having harm come to them.
    Recently, my street in Weston has seen a rise in drug trafficking, many neighbours have mentioned this, however, when asked if any of them had reported the incidents they said no.
    No One will get involved.
    I also thought that maybe I should just sell to get away from it, but then decided to let the Police know.
    I love my house and the area, and I refuse to be bullied away!

    1. Good for you for reporting crime when it happens. In any city there are criminal activities that will flourish if people think they can get away with it. Involving the police gives a message that someone cares and fear of detection definitely curtails criminal behaviour. The call will usually result in a visit to the neighbourhood by a patrol car which in itself is a deterrent to further activity.
      I think many people are reluctant because they don’t want to call 911 and can’t be bothered to look up the non-emergency line (it’s 416-808-2222 by the way).

  2. Found on line: American definition iof violent crime isn’t the same as ours!

    First, it should be noted that the figures Swann gives are out of date: in 2010, according to the FBI, the reported rate of violent crime in the US was 403 incidents per 100,000 people–the 466 figure comes from 2007. Second, and more importantly, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports defines a “violent crime” as one of four specific offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

    The British Home Office, by contrast, has a substantially different definition of violent crime. The British definition includes all “crimes against the person,” including simple assaults, all robberies, and all “sexual offenses,” as opposed to the FBI, which only counts aggravated assaults and “forcible rapes.”

    When you look at how this changes the meaning of “violent crime,” it becomes clear how misleading it is to compare rates of violent crime in the US and the UK. You’re simply comparing two different sets of crimes. In 2009/10, for instance (annual data is from September to September), British police recorded 871,712 crimes against persons, 54,509 sexual offenses, and 75,101 robberies in England and Wales. Based on the 2010 population of 55.6 million, this gives a staggeringly high violent crime rate of 1,797 offenses per 100,00 people.

    But of the 871,000 crimes against the person, less than half (401,000) involved any actual injury. The remainder were mostly crimes like simple assault without injury, harassment, “possession of an article with a blade or point,” and causing “public fear, alarm, or distress.” And of the 54,000 sexual offenses, only a quarter (15,000) were rapes. This makes it abundantly clear that the naive comparison of crime rates either wildly overstates the amount of violence in the UK or wildly understates it in the US.

    1. Mike, thanks for your efforts in researching this and for so clearly stating the points. Whether the TPS flawed comparisons of other cities’ crime rates are ‘naive’ or deliberate, the fact that they were published at all does not inspire confidence in the reliability or honesty of Toronto Police communications.

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