What a decade of homicides reveals about the nature of the crime

WINNIPEG – In Manitoba this year there have been more than 60 victims of homicide, the highest number the province has seen in over a decade.

Yet a Winnipeg criminologist warns homicide rates are not an indicator of the safety of the location. In fact he says the odds of becoming a victim of a homicide are similar to the odds of being hit by lightning.

“It is very, very rare for the average Winnipegger who’s not involved in the gang life, or isn’t a heavy drug user, or habitual heavy drinker – it’s very rare for the average person in Winnipeg to be the victim of a homicide,” said Frank Cormier, a professor of criminology at the University of Manitoba.

“We’re talking on the order of being hit by lightning sort of odds.”

BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS : A DECADE OF HOMICIDES

CTV News collected the annual homicide data going back to 2009 from Manitoba RCMP, Winnipeg Police Service and Brandon Police Service to see if the urban trend lines up with rural – it doesn’t.

Winnipeg’s trend of homicides is opposite to the rural trend. When WPS investigated 41 homicides in the city in 2011 – a record number for Winnipeg — RCMP investigated 14 homicides, an all-time low for the service in the past decade. 

Cormier said this speaks to the unpredictability of homicides.

“It might be that some of these homicides you know, by chance happened outside of the city of Winnipeg, where they could just easily have occurred inside,” Cormier said. “There’s a certain level (of homicides) that Manitoba has, it’s very consistent. It’s just some years some of them are outside the city.”

As for Brandon, Cormier said its low number of homicides don’t necessarily reflect the state of crime in the city, but the size of its population.

Despite being the second largest city in Manitoba, Brandon only has roughly 48,800 people according to the most recent 2016 census data from Statistics Canada. This is compared to Winnipeg’s population of approximately 705,000 people.

“The Brandon Police Service, their jurisdiction will be a very small area. So again, it would be much easier for a homicide to occur outside of Brandon than inside,” Cormier said.

HOMICIDE RATES EBB AND FLOW

The total number of homicides so far this year in Manitoba is 66. On average, there are approximately 51 victims of homicide in the province each year, yet this number ebbs and flows. 

“One thing to remember is homicides don’t respect the calendar,” said Cormier. “Homicide rates will fluctuate, as we’ve seen.”

Case in point – in Winnipeg a violent past few weeks has brought the total number of homicides up to 40, nearly breaking a record set in 2011. Yet last year the total number of homicides was the lowest it’s been in nearly 10 years. 

Still, RCMP Manitoba told CTV News it investigated 36 homicides last year – the highest annual total RCMP Manitoba has seen.

“Any number of homicides is unacceptable – it’s a bad thing. However in the big scheme of counting up crime, homicides, statistically, are our a small number,” Cormier said. “You can have coincidental swings in the homicide rate that really don’t mean? anything as far as a long-term trend goes.”

WHAT HOMICIDE RATES MEAN WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR SAFETY

“Is the homicide rate a valid indicator of how safe we are in Winnipeg? I would say no, it’s really not as far as the average person is concerned,” Cormier said. “What I would say to the average Winnipegger is to try not to read too much into these numbers with respect to how safe they feel living in this city.”

Cormier said 85 to 90 per cent of homicide victims and perpetrators are well known to each other.