Roger writing the LAWmag

Crime Prevention: Get with the Program! What Program?

It was 26 degrees Celsius in Ottawa today (July 18). Just west of Parliament Hill in former farmland now occupied by government buildings, a federal department issued an annual report of significant interest to law, justice and the legal system.

Criminal law is a core component of the legal system of every country, from the despots to the tyrants and including the free and democratic societies. Criminal law has two balanced societal purposes: rehabilitation and deterrence.

In that context, the release of annual crime statistics is always newsworthy. Statistics Canada reports that the general crime rate has dropped by percent and has hit its most points in 25 years. Shown on a scale, Canada's crime rate has risen by 500% since 1962 but has dropped down to only a third of that since peaking a decade ago.

Hawley CrippenAs usual, Saskatchewan has the highest crime rate per capita. There were 605 homicides 2006 58 less than in 2005. Break-ins (only 404 in Toronto last year) and automobile thefts are following a downward trend.

Hidden in the statistics is an increase in violent crime; more attempted murders, more aggravated assaults and robberies. Youth crime and dug charges are up by 3 and 2% respectively.

Where are you statistically most likely to be murdered in Canada? Regina. Where are you least likely? Three-Rivers, Quebec.

A staggering number of sexual assaults continue to occur, some 22,136 in 2006 alone.

Although their data has become somewhat stale, a 2001 United Nations study showed that Canada's crime rate was similar to that of England, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, France, South Korea and the Czech Republic. Columbia, South Africa, Jamaica, Venezuela, Mexico, and many former members of the Soviet Union topped the international crime rate list, with the United States ranking in the middle of the pack, along with India, Poland and Finland.

There is still a significant reluctance on the part of most governments to fully utilize the resources of science to tackle crime, such as DNA banking, cameras, etc. It seems as if a concerted decision has been taken to accept some violent crime instead of adopting a proactive scientific approach which could potentially eradicate violent crime.

Unspoken in the crime prevention reports or numbers is a significant contribution of science; a momentum that cannot be stopped.

There are exciting advances being made in polygraph technology - magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), retina scans and other biometric technology - which has the potential of shedding from the word "polygraph" the scornful reputation the justice system has traditionally stuck to it.

Computer and camera technology has become so miniaturized that British police are now placing discrete miniature cameras on the helmets and caps of their law enforcement officers.

Cameras are now scanning and recording movements in public places and no longer just by private businesses such as convenience store or gas outlets, but also large pedestrian thoroughfares.

The omnipresence of cell phones allows instant reporting of crimes including on the highways and in some cases, the precise tracking of events for the purposes of crime investigation. Already, these devices have captured and led to the arrest and incarceration of many incidents of group violent crime; offenses for which in the past,  would have been very difficult to obtain convictions.

Other technology advances that have directly impacted on crime prevention:

► Wireless technology has greatly reduce the cost of home security systems.

► Robots and robotics are allowing for emergency response in a danger zone without risking of human life.

► Many vehicles now have GPS trackers as do cellphones.

► Miniaturization and medical advances now allow for GPS emitters to be discreetly inserted in an ear lobe or worn as a bracelet. There appears to be no valid reason why this technology is not in the hands of probation officers if not permanently affixed around the wrists of all violent offenders.

In small but certain increments, science is our best weapon against crime, immortalized in the dramatic capture of Hawley Crippen (picture above) by British police in 1910 as he tried to escape England by trans-Atlantic (he was caught using "new" wireless technology that allowed his arrest particulars to be discreetly sent to the crew of the Montrose, the boat he was fleeing on).

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