Sunday, August 18, 2019

Where the green grass grows - Rural crime

by Tarah Hodgkinson

When we think about crime, we tend to think about the city. We think about robberies, gangs and guns and we imagine dark alleys or vacant lots. We don’t tend to associate rural areas with crime. We often romanticize them as idyllic places where life is slower, people know their neighbors and crime is rare.

However, the data does not support these imaginings. In Canada, for example, with only two exceptions, the top 20 highest crime rate communities are all towns or small cities in rural areas.

Imagining crime beyond the city can be difficult. While the overall number of incidents are lower in rural areas, crime rates in rural Canada and Australia are often higher than their urban counterparts. In the U.S., although large urban cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago compete for the title of crime capital, the States with the highest crime rates are among the most rural – Alaska, New Mexico and Nevada.


Rural issues are different as well.  The recent research reveals high rates of theft and violence, particularly domestic violence, impaired driving and the use of crystal methamphetamine. In areas of drought, water theft is a major problem.

Rural crime is intimately linked to changes that have affected rural communities such as a reduction in job opportunities, poverty, few opportunities for youth, and a lack of access to mental health and addiction treatment services. Additionally, many rural communities are ethnically homogenous, but rural policies often alienate indigenous populations.

Further, increases in immigration have led to increasing tensions and scapegoating onto these already marginalized groups. This is in spite of the reality that legitimate research on immigration and crime reveals that immigration leads to a decrease - or zero effect - on crime.

Rural crime also poses unique problems for prevention. For example, building local capacity in rural communities is much different than in urban areas. While rural areas account for approximately 17% of the population in North America, developing crime prevention strategies is no easy feat where distances are not walkable, services are difficult to access, and local stakeholders are few.

These problems are exacerbated when most research on the causes and solutions to crime comes from studies in urban areas. It is no small matter that CPTED was a product of large cities and none of the original writers spoke of rural areas.


Rural criminology is a new branch of criminology trying to better understand these issues. There is now a rural criminology division at the American Society of Criminology and a centre for rural criminology at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia. However, these groups are relatively new and their ideas are still emerging.

Only in recent years have we seen research emerging in the conferences of the International CPTED Association about crime prevention in rural areas.

At this point, there are no easy answers to preventing crime in rural communities. We have seen some success in smaller communities in Canada where SafeGrowth has been adopted wholeheartedly by local leaders, such as in North Battleford, Canada. However, as we gain a better understanding of the rural correlates of crime, we continue to adapt our methods and strategies to these new contexts - what SafeGrowth has always done.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Cop reality shows and the harm they do

NYPD anti-terrorism officers in Times Square
by Gregory Saville

I just watched the latest TV reality cop show. There are now almost 50 such programs on television screens around the developed world, most jumping on the bandwagon of the successful Cops program from 1989 ("what you gonna do when they come for you"?).

To those of us living in the active-shooter-killing-field that is modern America, it’s tempting to see cop reality shows as, well…reality. This is especially so considering the horrific news of 32 innocents fatally shot by domestic white terrorists over the past week in Texas, Ohio and California. Cop reality shows must be real! Right?

But the truth about cop reality shows is quite different and to those working to reduce crime in the long term, they don’t do us any favors. Distortions of the truth are never the truth.

Florida Highway Patrol at a traffic crash - Photo by Tampa Gator, Wiki Commons 

Reality shows have become to television what professional wrestling is to martial arts: entertaining, absurd, filled with predictable characters and laden with inevitable storylines. We all know it’s fake – or at least half-true – but it’s like when you see that copy of some trashy grocery store tabloid: you know Queen Elisabeth did not tell Prince Charles to dance naked holding a cup of tea in the lobby of Buckingham Palace. Yet it’s just gross and gratuitous enough to attract us in a comic-book fake way that we just can’t resist.


The cop version of those reality shows are the silliest. True, they show real people and the tragedies in their lives, but they show us only the worst moments. (To be fair, the higher quality shows state exactly that).

Unfortunately what they don’t state is that we see little of what led up to the events on screen and nothing whatsoever of what will happen afterward.

Toronto Police set up for a public event
They show no dull driving on routine patrol. No waiting for calls. And certainly no paperwork – the common-place drudgery that occupies the real cop’s life and takes up far more time than the TV snippets on screen. In other words, reality shows present far less than the real story of real police work. They show a snapshot.

We don’t even get the before/after story about the officers whom the cameras follow. We know nothing of their life, the emotional impact of those calls on their families, or even what they do after their shift (where many of the real stories unfold). While the stories of the victims and suspects in the show might be an uninvited open book, the behind-the-scenes police stories are too personal and verboten to the producers. It is not that they should be included! It is more that because they are not, the real “reality” is hidden.


But these shows have a much more insidious impact on the crime prevention story.

Reality TV producers say nothing about the long-term crime and safety in the neighborhoods in their programs, because they don’t really care about that. Has life worsened for people in those places? The officers respond, arrest, and patrol and, while the impact of such strategies is clear to criminologists (they don’t work), that evidence isn’t part of their TV reality.

If the evidence was somehow included about the truth of crime in modern-day America (and many other developed countries), it would appear as it actually is - in a steep decline.

U.S, Violent Crime Rates, 1990-2017 - Source FBI

Cop reality shows reveal moments of tragedy and crisis because, frankly, that’s what brings viewers to advertisers.

That’s not reality. It’s commerce.