Neighbourhood Characteristics and the Distribution of Crime: Edmonton, Halifax and Thunder Bay

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Josée Savoie, Editor, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada

The studies presented in this report are part of a series of spatial analyses of crime data conducted by Statistics Canada using Geographic Information System technology in Canadian cities. These studies, which were funded by the National Crime Prevention Centre at Public Safety Canada, examine the relationships between the distribution of crime and characteristics of demographic, socio-economic and land-use situations within cities. This report describes and explains the spatial models of crime in the cities of Edmonton, Halifax and Thunder Bay.

Spatial analyses of crime data provide a visual representation of areas of concentrated crime and help identify neighbourhood characteristics related to variations in crime levels. It can be an important tool for the development and implementation of crime reduction strategies.

The various mapping studies undertaken by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics support the ecology of crime, especially as regards social disorganization and opportunities for crime. In the Canadian context, studies on neighbourhood characteristics and the distribution of crime (Fitzgerald 2004; Savoie 2006; Wallace 2006; Kitchen 2006; Andresen 2007) also showed that crime is not distributed equally in cities; rather, it is often concentrated in particular neighbourhoods.

The study on neighbourhood characteristics and the distribution of crime in Winnipeg (Fitzgerald 2004) showed that in 2001, crime was concentrated in the city centre, which occupies a relatively small proportion of Winnipeg's geographic area. A similar pattern is observed in Regina, where, in 2001, the majority of violent crimes and property crimes were concentrated in the city centre, with small hot spots of property crime scattered throughout the city, generally close to shopping malls (Wallace 2006). On the Island of Montréal in 2001, property crimes were strongly concentrated in the city centre, but violent crimes were distributed among various neighbourhoods on the island (Savoie 2006). Collectively, these studies support the notion that urban crime is not distributed equally or randomly. It is, instead, often concentrated in particular areas and associated with other factors related to the population and land use characteristics.

These studies demonstrate major differences between the characteristics of high- and lower-crime neighbourhoods. When all other factors are held constant, the level of socio-economic disadvantage of people in a neighbourhood is the factor most strongly associated with the higher rates of violent and property crime in Winnipeg. In Montréal, three factors are associated with high crime rates in neighbourhoods: low income, the proportion of single people and commercial land use. In Regina, the factors associated with high crime rates in neighbourhoods are residents' low income and education levels and larger proportions of young men aged 15 to 24.

The following questions are raised in these studies: How are police-reported criminal incidents distributed among the cities' neighbourhoods? Is the crime rate in a neighbourhood associated with specific factors, such as its demographic, socio-economic, housing and land use characteristics? Is the crime rate in a neighbourhood affected by nearby neighbourhoods? These questions are explored using data from the 2001 Census of Population, the 2001 and 2003 Incident-based Crime Reporting Survey (UCR2), and land use data provided by the cities of Thunder Bay and Halifax.

These studies draw on data reported by the police, which provide a particular perspective on the nature and extent of crime. In other words, they cover only crimes known to the police. Many factors can influence police-reported crime rates, including the public's willingness to report crimes to the police and changes in legislation, policies or enforcement practices.

According to the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization, 34% of victimization incidents at the national level were reported to the police in 2004. Specifically, police services were informed of 31% of all personal victimizations and 37% of all household crimes. Overall, breaking and entering incidents were more likely to be reported (54%) and sexual assaults, less likely (8%). Whereas population surveys such as the GSS are designed to collect information from respondents on incidents in which they were subject to criminal victimization, whether or not they were reported to the police, these data are not currently available at the neighbourhood level in Canada.

Statistics Canada conducts the Census of Population every five years, most recently in 2006. This study drew on 2001 police data and census data for the same year so the data would be most compatible. When the studies on Edmonton, Halifax and Thunder Bay were carried out, however, detailed data on population characteristics relating to individual income from the 2006 Census were not yet available at the neighbourhood level.

The authors for each finding section are as follows:

Neighbourhood characteristics and the distribution of crime in Edmonton
Written by Mathieu Charron, Frédéric Bédard and Cory Aston, Statistics Canada

Neighbourhood characteristics and the distribution of crime in Halifax
Written by Marnie Wallace, Frédéric Bédard and Krista Collins, Statistics Canada

Neighbourhood characteristics and the distribution of crime in Thunder Bay
Written by Mathieu Charron, Statistics Canada

As well, Krista Collins of Statistics Canada is the author of Text box 1, Spatial autocorrelation

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