Edmonton’s Homicide Rate: How much has changed in 30 years?

Reading that we’ve had 28 murders so far this year in Edmonton is disheartening, as others have noted. And without a doubt something needs to be done to understand why this happening and what we can do to stop it. But has the picture really changed all that much from previous years?

Our homicide rate (the number of homicides per 100,000 people) currently sits at roughly 2.41. That compares to Winnipeg’s 2.08 (they have had 16 murders so far this year). If we extrapolate for the rest of the year, we’d finish with a homicide rate of roughly 4.82. That would indeed be our highest ever. However, a rate that high has only been experienced in large cities twice in the last 30 years:

Given that history, I would be shocked if we finished 2011 with a homicide rate above 4.8 (which would equate to 56 murders).

Here’s the average homicide rate for each of those cities:

And here’s what the rate looks like from year to year (it appears Montréal has experienced the most steady decline – we should find out what they did):

As for the title of Murder Capital of Canada – that distinction clearly goes to Winnipeg. It has led large cities in murders more in the last 30 years than any other:

In recent years, it has generally been Winnipeg #1 and Edmonton #2, or vice versa.

It sounds bad: “we’ve had more murders in the first six months of 2011 than we did all of last year”. That’s the kind of statement that will spur us into action. But I don’t think the situation is really all that different from previous years.

The other negative side effect of all of this is the knock on Edmonton’s image throughout Canada and around the world. Countless stories have been written about our homicide rate. I was interviewed by CTV about this today. I said that the words ‘homicide’ and ‘murder’ have been mentioned by Edmontonians on Twitter about 1200 times in the last month or so. What I didn’t get to do in the interview was compare that to previous years:

The absolute number of mentions is higher this year than it was in the last two years, but so is the total number of tweets overall. So I normalized the data. If the same number of tweets had been posted in June 2009 as were posted in June 2011, the words ‘homicide’ and ‘murder’ would have been mentioned more two years ago than today. All this to say: Edmontonians are talking about this topic, but perhaps not more than they have in the past. I would guess that other Canadians are talking about our homicide rate more than is normal, however.

UPDATE (8/5/2011): I updated the second paragraph to better reflect the way Statistics Canada calculates homicide rates, so that the numbers better align with the rest of the post. I had originally stated that extrapolating for the rest of 2011 would result in a homicide rate above 5.0, when it should have been 4.8. My argument remains the same – statistically speaking, that is very unlikely.