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What if Prince George really is Canada’s Most Dangerous City?

Posted on 21 January 2013

If you live in Prince George, you probably know that for three years in a row, it’s been ranked “The Most Dangerous City in Canada” by Maclean’s magazine. First, a couple of caveats:

  1. They only rank the top 100, and only look at cities with a population above 10,000
  2. Ranking the most dangerous city in Canada is a little like ranking the worst hockey players in the NHL – they’re all pretty good compared to the world at large

Related to the above, you can also make an argument about the usefulness of “best” and “worst” ratings at all when it comes to crime rates. “Worst” may not mean “bad.” Hypothetically, you could become the most dangerous city in the country thanks to a single incident, so long as everywhere else was crime-free.

So with those grains of salt taken, here’s my question: what if Prince George actually is Canada’s most dangerous city? Maclean’s doesn’t throw a dart at a map to make these rankings. It’s based on actual data, calculating the number of “severe crimes” – homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault, vehicle theft, robbery and breaking and entering – that occur per 100,000 people. Using this methodology, Prince George comes out on top.

After the first number-one ranking Prince George received, a Twitter movement called”#IHeartPG” sprang up. The idea was to spread positive messages about the city to counter the negative perceptions that would be associated with it as a result of the crime ranking. I’m all for spreading positive messages. I love this city, as my last two posts can attest.

But there’s a line between focusing on the positive and straight-up sticking your head in the sand. Every year, people spring up with the argument “I live here, and I feel safe!” point of view. Fair enough. Tell that to the people who’ve been victim to aggravated or sexual assault. The problem with your own experience is that it’s just your own experience. You can’t extrapolate whether a place is safe or not based solely on what’s happened to you. That’s why we use data like crime statistics.

Which brings us to the also-pervasive “it only happens to certain people.” Take your pick as to who those certain people are. Usually, people mean severe crimes like violence and assault only happen to gangsters. In official parlance, it’s people who lead “high-risk” lifestyles. Case in point:

“Those living high risk lifestyles have a high probability of being a victim of a criminal act, Stubbs continued, “however, the incidents of random violence for those citizens that contribute positively to our community is relatively low and the community needs to know that – this is a safe community.”

Which is also a fair point to make, I suppose. If assaults are going to be happening, it’s comforting to think that if I don’t do drugs and stay out of the wrong neighbourhoods, they probably won’t happen to me. But it also feels kind of crappy. What if you can’t afford to leave the neighbourhood? What if you’re some kid who witnesses a gang shooting? Or you’re a person who is trying to work with those leading “high-risk” lifestyles and you keep hearing about those problems and people you know are being hurt? Is it really a solution to say we’re not the most dangerous city because yeah, there’s dangerous crimes, but it’s only happening to bad people in the poor part of town?

None of this is to say that there isn’t value in the #IHeartPG movement or that the RCMP aren’t doing their job (crime is going down, after all). But I’ve been somewhat frustrated that since Prince George was ranked #1 again last year, the official line from city hall has been to encourage people to spread a positive message instead of a negative one. I like spreading a positive message. But it has to go along with a rational look at the facts and a discussion over whether we can do better. And that seems to be what the proposed Mayor’s Task Force On Crime (item G1) is about. In it, the mayor writes about the positives of Prince George, but adds:

“We lack a comprehensive strategy that: reduces crime and increases community safety; increases public involvement in reducing crime; increases integration between all stakeholders involved in crime reduction and; improves public awareness around the reality and perception of crime.”

Her proposal is to take a look at the model that Surrey has been using to reduce its crime rates and increase feelings of public safety and finding ways the city of Prince George, RCMP and other groups might adopt similar strategies. The emphasis on a positive message is still there, but so is acknowledgement that there’s room for improvement. That’s how change happens. I don’t know for sure that this task force will work. But I’m willing to bet it will work a lot better than simply looking the other way when another “high-risk” lifestyle comes to an end.

Filed under: cities, Prince George

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