Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Washington/BC murder mystery

Is more security cutting crime rates?
I cautiously stepped into a glass chamber at a recent security trade show to test a unique anti-burglary device. At the simulated moment of alarm activation I was blasted by a non-toxic, non-staining fog blanketing the chamber. I could see nothing. It's supposed to scare off burglars who cannot see their way to the loot. Devices like burglar foggers supposedly contributed to crime declines. So I'm told.

My last blog, Line on a Map, asked why the murder rate is so different in Washington State versus British Columbia (2.9 versus 1.5 per 100,000 - a ratio of 2:1).

The answer to that is buried somewhere in falling crime rates; falling under liberal and conservative governments, falling in peacetime and war. Until recently, falling like a stone in all but a few places.

Criminologists have multiple theories. Few agree.

Some say it is better security devices like burglar fogging or just more private security generally.

Unfortunately, while more security might explain some of that, the "better security devices" theory cannot explain declines in domestic violence, sexual assaults, and schoolyard bullying. Few of those victims are protected by better technical devices. Yet those rates too are also falling.


Some say it is more police per capita, new policing tactics like Compstat, stop-and-frisk, or stricter prison sentences?

During the 1990s, the first crime decline decade, those were American tactics. Canada had no changes in sentencing, no Compstat, no stop-and-frisk, and no more cops. Crime in Canada dropped just the same.


Aging population? That works better than other theories since older populations span most countries with crime declines. Since young males dominate prisons and court dockets, when they decline as a proportion of the whole population, crime drops. So the theory goes.

Yet none of that explains the Washington/BC gap until you factor that it is murder that is higher in Washington; property crime, especially burglary and theft, are not.


Then factor that most Washington murders involve handguns, in abundance in US cities and scarcer in Canada. True, crooks can always get guns on both sides and responsible gun owners don't leave their guns unsecured (gun rights folks…chill)!

Still, there are just more handguns around. For example, when a burglar breaks into a Washington home with a 1 in 20 chance of finding a handgun versus a 1 in 500 chance in BC, that handgun gets into more abundant criminal circulation. It then shows up more frequently during robberies and assaults. More shootings result in a much higher murder ratio in Washington vs BC - in this case a ratio of 2:1.  Gun advocates who think more guns will protect them are in a burglar fog. Look north for proof that they won't.

Nothing - not demographics, per capita police, economics, nor security devices - explain that difference better than handgun availability.

It truly is that straightforward. Solving it, sadly, isn't.