West Carleton: How Do High Calls for Service and Low Clearance Rates Equal Low Crime?

West Carleton: How Do High Calls for Service and Low Clearance Rates Equal Low Crime?
Posted on January 22, 2017 | Valarie Findlay | Written on January 22, 2017
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Author's Note:

Author's Note:

Valarie Findlay has two decades of senior expertise in developing strategies, frameworks and risk assessment approaches for cyber-security, policing, military and government departments. She holds a Masters in Terrorism Studies from the University of St. Andrew's and her dissertation, "The Impact of Terrorism on the Transformation of Law Enforcement", examined the transformation of law enforcement in Western Nations. Currently, she is preparing her doctoral thesis on terrorism as a social phenomenon. She can be contacted at: vfindlay@humanled.com

"Hello from the other side. I must have called a thousand times ..."  - Adele

By the crime reporting statistics alone, it would appear that the residents of West Carleton (Ward 5) in the City of Ottawa are calling for police service quite a bit. These comparatively high number of calls for service to Ottawa Police Services (OPS) but low rates of reported crimes, and the lowest crime clearance rates in the city that are well below the national average, begs to ask some questions.

With West Carleton's calls for service data being closer to higher crime areas, such as River and Kitchissippi wards--when looked at per household or per person the picture is puzzling. Purported to be the safest ward in Ottawa by ward Councillor and Ottawa Police Services Board Chair Eli El-Chantiry's office, Ward 5 does report a low crime rate in 2015, despite climbing almost 8%, as did the Crime Severity Index rating rise by almost 5%. 

A largely rural area, West Carleton is made up of agricultural land, escarpments and undeveloped conservation areas, surrounded by larger acreage properties with some pockets of residential and commercial developments throughout. With working farms dwindling over the years, many of the rural residential properties in the ward were severed off larger farms and acreage years ago, maintaining its lower density as the population grew.

At first glance, and in common terms, the data says that West Carleton residents are making a high number of calls for service per household, yet police are finding little crime associated with these calls. What they do find is solved or cleared at a very slow rate, indicating few charges are being laid.

So what's going on? Are West Carletonians not clear on what constitutes a crime? Are these misdials or wrong numbers? Is it the sheer loneliness of living so far from the din of Kanata? Hardly. West Carleton's demographics show that many of its residents have notable levels of post-secondary education, middle incomes and the ward has thriving areas of business that serve locals, and in keeping with other rural areas, property crime is the predominant crime type.

Digging through the 2015 Ottawa Police Services' crime reporting data [1]and City of Ottawa's 2015 household estimates[2], as cited in the footnotes (noting that both provide disclaimers around accuracy and warranty of data), shows West Carleton had a population of about 25,599 and 9,000 households[3] and there were 6,259 calls for service to Ottawa Police Services (OPS)[4], about one call for every two households and about one call for every four people.

Since OPS data reports[5] for each ward are separate, a consolidated table was created to examine and compare the data for each, line by line. For comparison, Osgoode (Ward 20) and Rideau-Goulbourn (Ward 21) were selected as a reasonable comparisons to West Carleton, due to their similar demographic and crime reporting data[6] [7].

Osgoode had a higher population of about 27,682 and 9,700 households with 5,628 calls for service, which is about one call for every two households and about one call for every five people. Rideau-Goulbourn (Ward 21) had a similar population, demographic and crime reporting data but it, as well as Osgoode, both showed better clearance rates and reported crime was more in line to their number of calls for service, than in West Carleton.

For urban context, River (Ward 16) that includes Carlington had 16,000 calls for service for its population of 48,561 and 21,117 households[8]; this is about two calls for every one and a quarter household and one call for every three people, with a clearance rate of 33.8%. Kitchissippi (Ward 15) had a population of 43,143 and 20,439 households and reported 12,040 calls for service[9], which is about one call for every two households and one call for every four people and had a clearance rate of 36.1%.

To provide some understanding, In these reports crime is categorized according to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey, used by most police organizations, that contributes to Statistics Canada's crime reporting for the nation. The reported crime rate is essentially the number of crimes resulting predominantly from the number of calls for service but may include online and counter requests. The crime rate is a traditional indicator of crime tends and measuring policing activity (but not productivity or crime resolution). Lastly, the Crime Severity Index (CSI) looks at both the volume of crime and its weighted seriousness.

While a lot of attention is paid to the CSI and crime rates, data on calls for service volume provides particular insight on the public's demand for police resources and police assistance, and to some extent an indication of real or perceived public safety in a community, with the levels of reported crime validating the instance of crime. If a crime has been solved or cleared, it is included in the clearance rate; this is total number of criminal incidents that have been "cleared" by police, normally by laying a charge.

In an effort to validate the above inconsistencies, data duplication and resources allocation were explored. However, the OPS data does not give the rate of duplication for calls for service - this is when more than one person calls in an incident in progress - nor the numbers for counter and mobile reports. Also, the numbers of patrol resources dedicated to wards were not available, which if insufficient could affect wait times, especially if lower priority, and could result in multiple calls from the same source for the same incident. If they exist, these are expected to be negligible, likely representing a 3-5% variance, as seen in other Canadian cities.

Incidents that were deemed unfounded are not included in crime data. In these cases, a complaint or call for service has been initiated but the incident failed to meet the validating criteria or substantiation of a crime. There doesn't appear to be any available data on unfounded incidents from OPS, nor were there any data values associated with their rates of occurrence. Finally, some of the referencing made some of the data difficult to validate, such as whether the report data spanned three years, five years (indicated in the preamble) or just 2014 and 2015, as the tables stated and it was not clear to what extent, if at all, youth crime (under the age of 18) was included or if the Youth Crime Severity Index (YCSI) was utilized.

Another inconsistency was found in reviewing previous years data for West Carleton; an unexplained high variation of data from 2012-2013 data to 2014-2015 data tables showed the number of calls for service went from 6,905 in 2012 to 4,479 in 2013. Likewise, the reported crime for 2012 was 366 (including traffic offences which were negligible) and for 2013 it was 296. In 2014 and 2015, these rose sharply again. Population for these years were stable and there were no particular changes indicated that would account for a high fluctuation in rates. While this could be a result of statistical versus reported data, or a methodology adjustment, neither were identified. Worth noting, back then, solvency, or clearance as it now called, was much higher than 2015 - averaging around 26% - but still falling below the national average[10].

Undoubtedly, calls for service at the operational level are one of the most time consuming and budget consuming activities by police and any effort to reduce these by addressing the underlying cause should be focused on, especially when no crime is reported from these calls. The danger of ignoring crime reporting for sub-regions, in favour of understanding trends for larger areas, is that micro-level data is crucial in determining the delivery of policing resources to communities, based on their demographics, density and crime types, and is directly correlated to opportunities to gather intelligence and build rapport.

But it is important to remember that crime is recorded and mostly reported in the actual area in which it occurs; this is why strategic efforts should address city-wide crime and programmatic efforts should address community level crime trends. In 2006, OPS' Chief Vince Bevan underscored this approach in an effort to meet increased crime and to improve the safety of responding officers and the public. This included modifying patrol boundaries, enhancing back-up and response, distributing workload and tailoring police availability to community characteristics and needs.

Even then, surveys showed that the public felt police patrol was necessary for safer communities; this has been repeated recently in response to the Ottawa Police Service's revamp of its front-line deployment model to a "generalist's approach" that eliminates "silos". However, a generalist approach to complex problems - especially in policing - is rarely successful and the concept of silos are actually crucial to programmatic efforts and, if designed properly, actually add to the refinement of skills, data and intelligence gathering, mobilized by good communication and collaboration.

Where does that leave West Carleton and its crime reporting data? Hard to say. In terms of the causality, there is no indication as to why there are so many calls for service and so few reported crimes. Are these bylaw issues that weren't redirected, indicating a process or training issue? Were these actual crimes that were not pursued, followed up on or resolved, resulting is continued complaints? Is there a systemic or isolated but embedded crime issue that is slipping through an unintended crack? And what is preventing the clearance of the, albeit low, reported crimes? New math? Fuzzy logic?  

Truthfully, what is accounting for these rates is utterly unclear and without overturning a number of rocks, will likely remain that way. In the end, this appears to be a question for OPS and the ward Councillor but one certainly worth asking.


[1] Ottawa Police Services website, 2014-2015 Annual Report: https://www.ottawapolice.ca/fr/annual-report-2015/resources/2015/Crime_T...

[2] City of Ottawa website: http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/get-know-your-city/statistics-and-economic...

[3] City of Ottawa website: http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/get-know-your-city/statistics-and-economic...

[4] Ottawa Police Services website: https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/annual-report/resources/Crime_Stats/Ward_...

[5] Author Note: To give a better indication of ward density, the number of households were added to contrast the population value and number of calls for service were calculated by population (per person) and by household; as well the reported crime rate was expressed as a percentage from number of calls for service.

[6] Ottawa Police Services website: https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/annual-report/resources/Crime_Stats/Ward_...

[7] Ottawa Police Services website: https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/annual-report/resources/Crime_Stats/Ward_...

[8] Ottawa Police Services website: https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/annual-report/resources/Crime_Stats/Ward_...

[9] Ottawa POlice Services website: https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/annual-report/resources/Crime_Stats/Ward_...

[10] Ottawa Police Services website: https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/annual-report/resources/5-West_Carleton-M...

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