Sep 23 2016
HALIFAX - Statistics suggesting crime rates in Canada have been falling for decades may not tell the whole story when it comes to criminal wrongdoing, the chief of Halifax Regional Police said.
Jean-Michel Blais said there are indications that the nature of crime is changing in a way that is not reflected in traditional crime data.
"And this crime is not being committed by your neighbour, and probably not someone here in Nova Scotia or even in Canada,'' he said in an interview. "It's being committed by somebody in a different country.''
Blais says traditional crimes appear to be "morphing'' and migrating to criminal acts perpetrated online.
As a result, he says, crime probably hasn't decreased as much as statistics might suggest.
In 2014, a study in the United Kingdom found just over half of those surveyed in Britain had been the victim of an online crime, including identity theft, hacking and illegally accessing and stealing from bank accounts.
The study found that much of this crime was never reported, which means it didn't show up in police statistics.
The Get Safe Online survey, conducted by market research firm Vision Critical, also showed that 53 per cent of those surveyed said they considered online crimes as serious as physical crimes.
"Crime really hasn't gone down as much as we think,'' Blais said in an interview. "It's ... migrated onto the Internet.''
To illustrate his point, he suggested it has become common for anyone using email to be routinely prodded by fake messages that seek access to bank accounts or offer rich rewards for participating in shady international transactions.
"Think about the number of passwords that you have in your life, and imagine if those were hacked,'' he said. "On average, it takes 400 hours of time to rehabilitate a person's identification.''
Last year, a PwC study conducted for the British government found 90 per cent of large corporations surveyed in Britain had experienced a security breach last year, up from 81 per cent in 2014, reflecting a similar trend for small- and medium-sized businesses.
"So, if you're part of a large company, chances are that in the future you will have a data breach,'' Blais said. "It's a real challenge.''
The chief also mentioned the rise of the so-called Dark Web, an off-limits layer of the Internet where special software and codes are needed to access illicit material.
Statistics Canada says that the overall police-reported crime rate in Canada has been falling for more than 20 years - a reversal of the upward trend recorded between 1962 to 1991.
The trend applies to violent crime, including homicides, and many other Criminal Code offences, Statistics Canada reports.
The federal agency said experts have attributed the decline to a long list of factors, including an aging population, changing policing practices, shifts in unemployment and variations in alcohol consumption.
Similar downward trends have been observed in other countries.
Blais, a former Mountie who has served as police chief for almost four years, said law enforcement here is inevitably challenged by police-civilian conflicts in the United States, but Canadians need to know things are different on this side of the border.
Canadian police often "end up wearing'' U.S. law enforcement issues, particularly as a result of highly charged incidents in places such as Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and North Carolina, Blais noted.
"One of the biggest challenges is dealing with those perceptions, both public and individual, that very often have no basis in fact,'' said Blais. "Unfortunately these perceptions have a direct link to public trust.''
He said the growing linkage that occurs through social media has led him to devise his own definition of the so-called Ferguson effect, named for the Missouri city that became a flashpoint for civilian protests after a 2014 police shooting.
"Whereas in the U.S. the term Ferguson effect refers to the reticence that some police officers may have in dealing with certain citizens for fear of being labelled a racist, for me the Ferguson effect essentially means what happens there, matters here.''
Blais said people need to know that there are many differences in how police operate on both sides of the border.
He said unlike Canada, the majority of police in the U.S. have no civilian oversight and don't have the ongoing training that is a priority here. He said surplus military hardware does not go to Canadian police, and police and other justice officials are not elected as some sheriffs and judges are in the U.S.
Blais said Canadian police don't get revenue from tickets, something he said has led to "repression'' in the U.S. and has directly contributed to problems in places like Ferguson.
"Ticketing goes directly to the police service, whereas here it is a shared responsibility of the province and municipality as it should be,'' he said. "I dare say that Ferguson and the issues that followed . . . have been more a question of classicism than racism.''
Blais said to combat perceptions and to deal with real problems, police have to involve themselves in more community engagement in order to keep a level of trust.
"We want to be intelligence-led, problem-solving community contributors. We do that by getting to know our communities and people in them and having them get to know us especially.''