Exploring the Link between Crime and Socio-Economic Status in Ottawa and Saskatoon: A Small-Area Geographical Analysis
Table 7.6 shows the mean values for each variable used in the study according to three groupings:
- All residential neighbourhoods (n=55)
- High Crime Areas, total offences (n=10)
- High Crime Areas, violent offences (n=12).
The table reveals that there are considerable socio-economic disparities between HCAs and overall conditions in Saskatoon's neighbourhoods. HCAs have, on average, much higher proportions of single people, people who have recently moved, Aboriginal residents and youth who are not attending school. Low educational attainment is an important problem in HCAs with an average of more than 40% of residents aged 20 and over having not finished high school compared to the overall average of about 27%. Furthermore, the proportion of residents with university degrees is less than half that of the overall average. In addition, HCAs have residents who are far more dependent on government transfers and are more likely to be living in low-income. The rate of low-income families is more than double that of the neighbourhood average. Table 7.6 also indicates that there are noticeable disparities in housing conditions with HCAs having substantially larger proportions of renters as well as old housing and dwellings needing major repairs. The average value of dwellings and average home selling price are also markedly lower in these areas. Finally, employment conditions are poorer in HCAs as evidenced by much lower rates of participation and significantly higher levels of unemployment. These socio-economic problems are particularly acute in the five HCAs listed in Table 7.7 all of which are located on the west side of the South Saskatchewan River in and around core area.
- In 2003, Saskatoon had the highest crime rate among all Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) in Canada. It also had the highest rate of violent crimes and the second highest rate of property crimes.
- Between 1999 and 2003, there was a steady increase in Saskatoon's crime rate with a particularly sharp rise of 16% between 2002 and 2003. Violent and property crimes rates also grew.
- In 2003, just over 50% of all crimes were property related with 'theft under $5,000' and 'break and entering' accounting for 80% of all the incidents in this category. Violent offences represented 11% of all crimes in Saskatoon, with 'assault' (75%) being the most frequent. Vandalism is also a problem in the city with 5,139 incidents recorded in 2003 within the offence type 'Mischief under $5,000 (property damage)'.
- The statistical analysis found that there is a relationship between crime and certain socio-economic characteristics in Saskatoon's 55 residential neighbourhoods. For instance, the principal components analysis (PCA) indicated that there is a strong association between violent and major property offences and vulnerable segments of the population, most notably Aboriginal people, lone-parents and low-income families.
- The multiple regression analysis confirmed the findings of the PCA and established several predictors of crime. The overall crime rate in a neighbourhood was found to be significantly influenced by youth not at school, single residents and residents relying on government transfers.
- The regression analysis also indicated a strong relationship between violent crime and Aboriginal residents in Saskatoon suggesting that this group is more likely to be victims of these crimes, particularly in certain inner city neighbourhoods.
- The mapping of crime variables revealed a visible clustering of High Crime Areas (HCAs) in the west side of the city, particularly in the core area. This was especially evident for violent HCAs. By comparison, minor property and drug offences displayed a more dispersed pattern.
- There was a similar geographic clustering of low-income families and Aboriginal residents in and surrounding the core area.
- While more Aboriginal and low-income people live in the west side of the city, ethnic segregation is not a prominent feature of Saskatoon's urban social geography. There are only 3 neighbourhoods where Aboriginal residents comprise more than 30% of the total population and none have more than 50%, suggesting that issues of crime and victimization effect a wider segment of the population in HCAs.
- There is a geographic association between HCAs and neighbourhoods with higher proportions of low-income families and Aboriginal residents.
- HCAs were also found to have higher proportions of single people and residents who have recently moved, significantly lower levels of educational attainment, poorer quality and older housing and higher unemployment.
The principal findings of this study can contribute to a number of broad policy initiatives aimed at crime prevention, social upgrading and community development. It is apparent that Saskatoon's high crime rate is due, in large part, to a high concentration of crime in several neighbourhoods including the Central Business District (CBD), Pleasant Hill, Riversdale, Caswell Hill and King George. The majority of crime in the CBD is related to minor property offences, particularly theft. This is due to the fact that downtown area presents ample criminal opportunity as it contains significant retail activity and office space. Most CBDs in Canada have higher crime rates for this reason. Therefore, crime prevention strategies should be adopted where police work in collaboration with the downtown business community to reduce theft and other minor property offences by enhancing security and surveillance methods. The Saskatoon Police Service currently has a 'Business Security Program'.
In other HCAs, particularly the inner city neighbourhoods listed above, policy efforts should focus on social development in four related areas:
- housing quality and affordability,
- education and training,
- youth programs and services and
- Aboriginal violence.
The City of Saskatoon has initiated several Local Area Plans (LAPs), which involve community consultation to evaluate neighbourhood issues and develop policies to guide future growth and improve quality of life. For example, the Pleasant Hill LAP was completed in 2002 and identified a number of persistent problems in the neighbourhood such as a deteriorating infrastructure, poor housing quality, poverty and increasing crime. Several recommendations were made including investment in infrastructure and road maintenance, zoning changes to encourage commercial and residential development, limiting the number of pawn shops, conducting a community Safety Audit and upgrading park, recreation and heritage facilities (City of Saskatoon 2002). LAPs have been completed for other inner city neighbourhoods including Caswell Hill and King George and several more are either currently underway (Riversdale) or planned for the near future (City Park and Westmount).
In addition to the LAPs, the City of Saskatoon has developed a series of housing policies. Although the city does not own housing or manage housing programs, it is promoting affordable housing options and is partnering with organizations, including several in the private sector, to restore older housing units needing repair particularly in the inner city. An adequate supply of good quality affordable housing is at the cornerstone of creating stable neighbourhoods.
With respect to community-based initiatives, the police and the city have opened several youth drop-in centres, including one planned for Pleasant Hill and have initiated programs aimed at discouraging youth participation in gangs. According to the Criminal Intelligence Service Saskatchewan (2005) gangs, particularly Aboriginal gangs are a growing and serious problem in Saskatoon as they are involved in violence, drug dealing, recruitment and intimidation and have injected fear into inner city neighbourhoods. Efforts should to be stepped up in these communities to provide alternatives for youth at risk of becoming involved in gangs. For example, the work done in LAPs can be used as a catalyst for expanding youth services and programs particularly related to parks, recreation, arts, culture and education.
However effective these programs may be in reducing levels of crime and improving quality of life, it is clear that the City of Saskatoon needs greater assistance from higher levels of government, particularly at the federal level. An important feature of Saskatoon, like other cities in Western Canada, is the large in-migration of Aboriginal people from reserves and rural areas. In most cases, the migration from reserves means Registered Indians are no longer under the jurisdiction of the federal government and the provision of social services to them becomes the responsibility of provincial and municipal governments. As stated, research by La Prairie (2002) indicates that certain cities, including Saskatoon, are high contributors to Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system. The federal government should expand its Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS) to provide additional financial assistance and to work in collaboration with the Province of Saskatchewan and the City of Saskatoon to upgrade the supply of affordable housing and to improve education and training options especially for young inner city Aboriginals. The UAS was introduced in 1998 and is currently involved in pilot projects in several cities including Saskatoon. With all three levels of government acting in cooperation the goal should be to improve the standard of living of Aboriginals and Non-Aboriginals living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and over time to reduce levels of violence and contact with the justice system.
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