Exploring the Link between Crime and Socio-Economic Status in Ottawa and Saskatoon: A Small-Area Geographical Analysis

Executive Summary

In recent decades, considerable research has been devoted to examining issues related to crime and demography/social status at the inter-urban level in Canada. This 'macro' research usually involves the collection and analysis of criminal offence and socio-economic data for municipalities or Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs). Research in urban geography and other disciplines has demonstrated that extensive spatial variability exists within Canadian urban centres with respect to social status and it is clear that crime is not distributed evenly across a city. The three studies presented in this publication adopt a 'micro' approach by using Ottawa and Saskatoon as case studies to examine the relationship between crime and socio-economic status at the intra-urban level and, in the process, a model for small area crime analysis in Canada is developed.

Study # 1 of Ottawa examined 2001 criminal offence data obtained from the Ottawa Police Service and socio-economic indicators drawn from the 2001 Census aggregated at the level of the dissemination area (DA). The DA is the smallest geographic area for which census data are available and is comprised of several city blocks. A total of 32 variables (6 crime and 26 socio-economic) in 1187 DAs in Ottawa were analyzed by way of multivariate statistical techniques including principal components analysis and multiple regression. In addition, geographic information systems software (ArcGIS) was used to produce a series of maps displaying the distribution of high crime areas in Ottawa and the spatial relationship between these areas and disadvantaged communities.

The study found that overall in Ottawa there is a weak statistical association between crime and socio-economic status and that there are no clear social 'predictors' of crime at the level of the DA. The mapping of crime variables displayed that "High Crime Areas" (HCAs) are largely contained to the built up urban core with very few HCAs evident in outlying and rural areas. The GIS analysis revealed that there is a moderate geographic relationship between crime and socio-economic status in the city, with 40% of socially disadvantaged DAs also being HCAs. When specific areas were examined more closely, a number of important characteristics did emerge from the study. For example, HCAs were found to have above average levels of low-income, single people, and rented dwellings. In addition, the study identified a number of "Hot-Spots" in the city (a combination of high crime and social disadvantage) and these areas were found to have higher rates of violent crime and substantially larger proportions of recent immigrants, visible minorities and residents living in apartment buildings.

With respect to crime prevention strategies in Ottawa, it is apparent that attention should focus on enforcement and social upgrading in disadvantaged communities with high rates of crime and programs should be designed to reflect the social characteristics and meet the needs of the residents living in these areas. At the same time, continued attention should be directed at reducing criminal opportunity in other locations such as residential suburbs, commercial areas and public spaces.

Study # 2 investigated the relationship between crime, socio-economic status and segregation in Saskatoon and established several "predictors" of crime. The study examined 2003 crime statistics, 2001 Census variables and development/planning indicators in Saskatoon's 55 residential neighbourhoods. A total of 31 neighbourhood variables were analyzed by statistical techniques including principal components analysis, multiple regression and spatial autocorrelation. A series of maps showing the distribution of crime and neighbourhood characteristics were produced with ArcGIS.

The study found that there is a strong relationship between crime and socio-economic status in Saskatoon's neighbourhoods. Aboriginal people, lone-parents and low-income families were identified as particularly vulnerable segments of the population with respect to violent and major property crimes. The mapping of crime variables revealed a solid clustering of High Crime Areas (HCAs) on the west side of the South Saskatchewan River, particularly in the inner city. This was especially evident for violent HCAs. By comparison, minor property and drug offences displayed a more dispersed pattern. While a majority of Aboriginal and low-income people live on the west side of the city, segregation is not a prominent feature of Saskatoon's urban social geography. HCAs were found to have higher proportions of singles and people who have recently moved, significantly lower levels of educational attainment, poorer quality and older housing and higher unemployment.

From a policy perspective, the study reviewed a number of initiatives undertaken by the City of Saskatoon and the Saskatoon Police Service to improve quality of life and deal with increasing crime in inner city neighbourhoods. Based on the results of the statistical and geographic analysis, the study recommended that additional policy efforts should focus on four related areas:

  1. housing quality and affordability,
  2. education and training,
  3. youth programs and services and
  4. Aboriginal violence.

In addition, it was proposed that the federal government expand its Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS) and continue to work in collaboration with the Province of Saskatchewan and the City of Saskatoon to provide affordable stable housing and education and training options especially for young inner city Aboriginals. The goal should be to improve the quality of life of resident living in these communities thereby reducing levels of victimization and contact with the justice system.

Study # 3 involved the re-aggregation of the Ottawa dissemination area data from Study # 1 to match the larger boundaries of the city's 50 neighbourhoods. The crime and socio-economic data were then re-analyzed at this level of geography and compared to the findings of the Saskatoon neighbourhood analysis (Study # 2). The study found that a change in geography does have an impact on the statistical relationship between crime and socio-economic status. Several indicators were found to have a significant effect on crime levels in Ottawa's neighbourhoods including higher proportions of single people and youth not attending school as well as lower average household incomes. The mapping of crime variables indicated a fairly dispersed pattern of High Crime Areas (HCAs) within Ottawa's urban core and a visible presence in several of the city's western suburban neighbourhoods.

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