There are recent reports that the rate of property crime in Parry Sound has increased significantly relative to 2011, about 60%. Year-to-date there have been 95 break-ins in versus 60 last year. This is a big increase, but we need to better understand what these numbers relate to. It’s not easy to understand if these figures are for the Town of Parry Sound or the District of West Parry Sound. I assume it is the latter but I’ll see if the local OPP office will provide more clarification on this. Looking at a half-dozen regional news reports of the figures it’s not clear exactly what they refer to.

If they refer to the Town of Parry Sound, and we extrapolate the numbers we would be looking at about 150 to 200 break-ins for the full year. With about 3,000 residences in town it would suggest about 1 in 20 homes will be vandalized this year. This is an unrealistically high number, so the property crime figures probably apply to the District of Parry Sound. If it is I’d like to see the news outlets appropriately qualify their news stories, it’s too easy for them to pick up news on the wire, reword it slightly and never look at what it really implies and applies to.

The general regional increase is not a surprise if you have been ‘flower watching’ this summer. For the last couple of summers the Town of Parry Sound has planted petunias in the flower boxes on the Bowes Street bridge. Perhaps you have noted how this year, much more than last, flowers from these boxes have been torn out on a too regular basis. This is vandalism and petty crime that makes little sense but may be an indicator of a more systemic problem. One year of increased ‘flower pulling’ doesn’t define a breakdown in the local social fabric, nor does one year of increased district property crimes.

If you have been exposed to the ‘Broken Windows Theory‘ you can see where I am headed. The theory suggests two concepts: proactively dealing with petty crime (graffiti, littering) can reduce the incidence of more serious crime, and quickly dealing with petty crime can prevent it from continuing or becoming a ‘habit’. For example, removing graffiti quickly generally reduces its proliferation, and keeping a street litter free results in less littering. The net/net is that if a town is clean and tidy people will tend to keep it clean and tidy. If it’s messy, people have a tendency not to think twice when littering. This is also why the police tend to monitor and ticket for simple things like seat belt infractions. People are more likely to pay attention to the rules of the road, red lights, drunk driving, speeding if they know that it matters and it’s being watched.

The flowers on the bridge may be our way of gauging the town’s petty crime ‘temperature’. The increase in flower pulling and a general sense of civic ‘disobedience’ is not a good sign when understood in the context of the larger district crime increase.

So what’s to be done? In terms of the regional picture this is an issue that needs to be monitored and addressed by the many communities, the OPP and regional officials if the recent increase in ‘crime’ is more than an aberration. In terms of Parry Sound we need to stay on top of things like the ripped out flowers, littering and petty vandalism, and address them quickly. The Broken Windows Theory suggests the best way to prevent littering is to pick up the litter right away, and the way to reduce graffiti is to remove it right away.

If the town wants to have flowers on the bridge where they can be torn out there needs to be a commitment to replacing them; right away. Better no flowers than pillaged flower boxes.

The Scene of the Ongoing Crime