Because perception = reality

We hear over and over again how dangerous Winnipeg’s downtown is. How crime ridden it is and that you shouldn’t  venture there at night. But is it?

In the end it really is only  personal experience that matters – so let me tell you my personal experience.

Winnipeg’s downtown is ugly. There are far too many smokers and cigarette butts everywhere. Panhandlers are everywhere, and most of them have been drinking. And yes, most come from a specific ethnic background. And let’s not forget that most of the bus shelters smell like piss.

But dangerous? I’m middle age, and I have only ever been the victim of crime twice. Both were crimes against property (vehicle break ins), and neither happened downtown (one was in Edmonton). Oh, and I have lived here all my life.

So dangerous? Not for me. But it’s ugly, and unfortunately that leads to a perception of danger and crime. Clean it up and that perception should disappear as well.

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11 thoughts on “Because perception = reality

  1. No, in the end, it’s *not* really only personal experience that matters. We don’t apply one’s personal experience of workplace safety – “I’ve never had an accident before, so why take steps to prevent accidents for others?” – why would we take the same ridiculous approach to crime prevention?

    And if you think it’s only personal experience that matters: consider yourself. You’re a self-described middle-aged male, apparently able-bodied, who can choose when he goes downtown and when he leaves, and can choose to do so at a range of speeds with the lowest odds of attack or intimidation – unlike thousands of more vulnerable people: residents, the disabled, seniors, young women, workers downtown who have no control over their shifts, Good samaritans caught in the wrong place, even the homeless. It’s pretty arrogant, frankly, to assume that your experience is something around which we should decide public policy.

    Good Samaritan: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/Good-Samaritan-stabbed-while-trying-to-intervene-in-downtown-attack-131532048.html

    Downtown worker: http://winnipeg.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110427/wpg_multiple_stabbings_042611/20110427/?hub=WinnipegHome

    The destitute: http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/02/07/convicted-killer-choked-burned-victim

    Women visiting downtown in broad daylight: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/Woman-walking-downtown-sexually-assaulted-114291899.html

    The disabled: http://www.winnipegsun.com/2011/08/03/disabled-beating-victim-dead

    All in 2011, and that’s just all I’m willing to bother to find with a quick google search. The list of casualties, as you know, is much longer. But hey, YOU’RE safe, so it’s all perception!

    As for what “really matters,” I think this kind of thinking – http://blogs.canoe.ca/crimescene/general/pushing-the-dreaded-red-dot-around/is – a far better guide to what matters than whether you or anyone else *feels* good or not. Not least because it’s the sort of guide most other cities that are actually seeing significant reductions in crime have used to deliver on those reductions, instead of relying on vacuous debates about “perception” that are rather convenient for the powerful, the comfortable and the lazy.

    • I’m not suggesting that crime isn’t a problem downtown. What I am saying is that it seem a lot of people are confusing crime and danger with poverty and neglect. How many people suggest that the downtown is crime riddled and feel unsafe going downtown and yet their only experience is either witnessing public drunkenness or panhandling. They’re building their opinions off reported incidents that realistically, probably won’t happen to them.

      Let’s look at your referenced articles :

      I’ll give you the first, but could always be countered with the story of the woman who was stabbed to death in the middle of Portage ave in St. James several years back and NOBODY came to her aid, people stood and watched.

      Downtown worker? You’ve essentially described a bar fight – remember the drive by shooting at the Grant? or perhaps the shooting at Night Moves? Would you like me to list more incidents of suburban bar violence?

      Destitute? “The woman and victim met for the first time earlier that day and had been drinking together.” I think that line sums it up.

      Woman visiting downtown? Did you miss the article in the freep today that described the almost the exact same incident on a Pembina Hwy bus in south Winnipeg?

      Disabled? “She said they parted ways around 2 a.m. Police say Sanderson met a man and woman outside his apartment building on the 300-block of Kennedy Street, and invited them to his suite.” Again, what’s the underlying issue? Alcohol.

      Am I as middle age white male safer than those most vulnerable? Of course. The point I am trying to make is that while crime is an issue, maybe looking at issues like overall downtown cleanliness and suburbanites walking around scared shitless when they are basing that on what? reports of crime, when the factors that lead to it are factors they wouldn’t normally encounter?

      Yes let’s address crime and social issues downtown. But lets also realize that there is a significant number of people that frequent the downtown that realistically aren’t going to be crime victims and are not in more danger of being a victim as a result of being downtown.

  2. Never had a problem with crime downtown. I think those that make a “living” with these types of topics seem to want to make it bigger than what it really is. Some don’t even live in the City.

    All cities have a criminal element. Of course keep counting crime as a percentage and you will always make it seem worse.

    • El, I can’t actually find a single actual point buried in all of that.

      Who’s counting crime as a percentage? And how does that “always make it seem worse” when crime rates are dropping swiftly in most other North American cities?

      Who’s “making a “living” with “these types of topics?” And which ones don’t even live in the City?

      And what’s your answer to the countless people who *have* had a problem w/ crime downtown?

      And if you’re so sure of your points, why are you hiding your name when you make them?

      @Brian, if “cleaning up downtown” is a corollary to “having an intelligent, evidence-based crime prevention plan for downtown and executing it,” fine by me. But you need both, because the crime problem is real, especially when measured as a problem of stabbings and assaults – both crimes worth being afraid of. Your quibbling with my individual cases misses the larger point: I could have filled several pages with similar incidents if I’d wanted to, as we both know, and then filled another page with anecdotal evidence of people changing their behaviour in legitimate reaction to those cases. That’s because we have a real problem. With real casualties. It’s worse elsewhere in Winnipeg, and worse in some other cities, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real here.

      • Yes, it is a corollary, and yes we do need both. But realistically let’s looks at the demographics and target groups. Tailor crime strategies to those groups that are most likely to be victims of crime. The suburbanite who works downtown has probably the same if not greater chance of being a victim of crime in any other area of the city. Being a victim of crime isn’t an issue for them. Maybe if downtown was cleaned up they would get rid of that perception that they are in constant danger downtown and crime strategies could be developed that address where crime happens and who is affected by it instead of being distracted by incorrect perceptions that some have about their personal safety downtown.

      • I mostly agree – except

        (1) the best way to tailor a crime strategy is to target the habits of offenders, not the habits of victims; and

        (2) the one thing that’s stood in the way of having a crime prevention strategy to do that is the persistent drumbeat of Winnipeg boosterism. For years, WPS and City Hall policymakers have done nothing or shift responsibility because they could rely on a chorus of people to chime in and insist there’s nothing worth fixing, *only* a “perception” problem.

        By definition, you can’t build a strategy to fix a crime problem (or in downtown’s case, problems, since it’s a cross-section) unless you’re forced to admit there actually is one in the first place. And I react so badly to comments like your original post precisely because City Hall’s chronic policy laziness thrives on that sort of “no problem here!” indifference from city residents.

      • Yeah, I may have been a little less than concise in the original post. My argument wasn’t that there isn’t a crime problem. It’s that many say there is a crime problem for them and they are scared to go downtown when really there isn’t a crime problem for them and they should not be scared going downtown any more than anywhere else in the city.

  3. The perception of crime downtown is far worse that the actual crime rate itself. The only time I almost became a victim of crime is when a guy pulled a hammer on me, and that was after I ran out of a store and shoved him for trying to steal my bike with bolt cutters.

  4. Hi! Sorry for this off-topic comment, but I don’t know any other way of getting a hold of you. Have you signed up for http://winnipegzoom.com yet? It was created by former members of NewWinnipeg. I thought I’d let you know because you were an active member of NW. 🙂

    -elle

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