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A comprehensive study of crime data for Fort McMurray and the surrounding region has revealed crime rates that are well below Alberta and Canadian averages. The study was conducted by Prof. Neil Boyd, director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Prof. Boyd analyzed crime statistics over a 10-year period from 2003 to 2012 in the municipality, where Fort McMurray is the largest community.
The analysis also revealed, specifically, that the region has experienced considerable declines across many categories of crimes. Prof. Boyd augmented the study with interviews with local RCMP officers.
“This research aims to present an accurate and thorough assessment of crime rates and trends in Fort McMurray. The study demonstrates, contrary to a number of media reports, that the region is far from awash in crime,” said Prof. Boyd. “I found no evidence to support the notion that there is a greater prevalence of crime in Wood Buffalo compared to other communities in Alberta or Canada.”
The key findings of the study for 2012 include:
- The rate of break-entry-theft in the region is substantially below provincial and national rates. It is approximately one-third of the Albertan and Canadian rates, with 172 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 513 and Canada had 504.
- The rate of robbery is well below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 55 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 71 and Canada had 79.
- The rate of sexual assault is well below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 44 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 75 and Canada had 63.
- The rate of cannabis distribution is substantially below provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had 12 incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had 33 and Canada had 45.
- The rate of prostitution is nearly identical to provincial and national averages: Wood Buffalo had seven incidents per 100,000 population, while Alberta had eight and Canada had six.
Further, over the 10-year period, the region has seen a 47 per cent decline in overall crime incidents, the most significant drop compared to other jurisdictions canvassed by the study. Some notable categories include: break-entry-theft incidents declined 68 per cent, prostitution incidents declined 78 per cent, and cannabis distribution incidents declined 80 per cent.
“The results of this study are very positive,” said Wood Buffalo RCMP Superintendent Bob Couture. “Our detachment is committed to delivering crime prevention, response and education that will continue the downward trend of these statistics and contribute to building safe and secure communities.”
Prof. Boyd noted that public misconceptions about crime in the municipality have been caused in part by misleading surveys and statistics reported by some media. For example, in the national crime ranking surveys published by Maclean’s magazine, he said inappropriate population figures have been used.
For his analysis, Prof. Boyd relied on the more accurate municipal census, approved by Alberta Municipal Affairs, which reported the region’s population as more than 116,000 in 2012. But Maclean’s has used Statistics Canada figures, which indicated a 2011 population of approximately 65,000.
Statistics Canada erroneously omits about 40 per cent of the people in Wood Buffalo as it considers them to be transient, said Prof. Boyd, adding that the use of the lower population figures invariably and mistakenly inflates the municipality’s crime rates.
“The people who are left out by StatsCan are not marginally or seasonally employed. Instead, they are skilled individuals with a strong and ongoing presence in the region’s workforce,” he said.
Prof. Boyd added that the selective use of crime data for a single year or year-over-year can provide a false or incomplete portrait of a community’s crime profile. Comparisons across short-term data are susceptible to showing substantial variations, which are not truly indicative of any real changes or trends in crime rates.
“The practice of focusing on or comparing a crime rate for a very short timeframe is of limited value,” said Prof. Boyd. “Virtually all academic analyses of crime rates use a time period of at least 10 years in order to draw meaningful and accurate conclusions.”