New Stats Can study: Youth crime patterns in Toronto neighbourhoods

I once showed a map of Toronto’s 2005 summer of shootings to a sociologist at the University of Hawaii and, without ever having visited our city, she was able to point out the main commercial districts, transit lines and low-income areas. These are the areas where urban crime cluster, she explained.

English: The northwest corner of the intersect...

Perhaps easily apparent, the patterns are always more interesting at a more granular level of detail.  So a new Statistics Canada report from the Crime and Justice Research Paper Series. has again given Torontonians another glimpse into criminal activity in our city. This time, author Mathieu Charron has focused on youth crime in Toronto. (His earlier 2009 paper on Toronto looked at broader patterns of crime.)

About 175,000 youth, aged 12 — 17, lived in the City of Toronto in 2006, the year which Charron used for his analysis. Using census tracts as a proxy for neighbourhoods, Charron looks at the geographic distribution of youth crime, and the characteristics of the places associated with it. He maps all police-reported incidents which involve a youth.

As anticipated, his maps show concentrations of youth crime along transit lines, in commercial areas, and then less frequently, around schools. But the study also finds some other interesting and confirming patterns:

  • About 1/3 of reported youth crime occurs in outdoors public spaces, and another third in commercial establishments. School properties accounted for the location of 12% of other reported incidents (2/3 occurring during supervised school activities). Public areas and local residences surrounding schools do not necessarily experience more youth crime, although local businesses do.
  • Neighbourhoods with lower mobility (i.e. residents more likely to have lived there for five years or more) experience less crime. Charron suggests more stable social networks may be part of the explanation for this.  And, as shown in other studies, neighbourhoods with higher levels of immigration are also less likely to experience some forms of youth crime. Family cohesion is usually seen as a contributing factor.
  • Neighbourhoods with more access to resources also are less likely to see youth accused of crime.
  • Central Toronto neighbourhoods (i.e. easily accessible) are more likely to experience youth crime in public areas.
  • Youth are more likely to be accused of a crime when they live in neighbourhoods with high adult crime rates, or higher residential mobility (people move homes more frequently) or where residents are economically vulnerable (low-income areas). Here, Charron cites other studies which attribute low levels of social control and/or exposure to violence as important contributing factors.
  • The characteristics of a youth’s home neighbourhood are more likely to predict whether youth become involved with the criminal justice system than the locations of where crimes take place. (Does that mean there are bad neighbourhoods? No, just vulnerable ones, with fewer resources.) This may be related to another of the study’s findings, that youth are more likely commit crimes outside their own residential neighbourhoods.

The most frequent sites of youth crime in 2006 were in commercial establishments, largely because of high traffic and opportunity. Property crime, especially shoplifting, accounted for 3 ⁄ 4 of the reported incidents. The maps Charron includes appear to confirm concentrations around shopping malls. The biggest apparent hotspot was Scarborough Town Centre with more than 250 incidents per square kilometre. Other crime hotspots (east to west) appear to be Yorkdale Shopping Mall, Dufferin Mall. Eaton Centre, Laird/Eglinton or Thorncliffe area, Cedarbrae Mall and Malvern Town Centre. These all showed rates between fifty to two hundred and fifty reported incidents. Outside of these large commercial centres, Charron found neighbourhood establishments, such as convenience stores and restaurants, were also vulnerable. Charron found a strong overlap between commercial areas which reported youth crime and adult crime, although youth were more likely to be involved in outlying neighbourhoods in the city.

In his next area of focus, outdoor public spaces, Charron found the prevalence of youth crime was much smaller, by a dimension of 25 to one (The upper range of outdoor events was only 10 incidences per square kilometre). As our Honolulu sociologist predicted, reported incidents were concentrated along transit and subway lines, in lower-income areas and near commercial areas. Charron also found some support for the “bored teenager syndrome,” that the number of reported crimes were higher in neighbourhoods with a higher number of youth, including central areas of the city where youth tend to gather and where household incomes are higher. Subway and other natural gathering points also attracted higher crime levels. The highest areas, reporting more than ten incidents per square kilometre, were around the University of Toronto, the Yonge Street downtown south of Yonge, Yonge and Finch, around Donlands and Danforth and the surrounding area (where five high schools are concentrated). Smaller problem pockets were found at Jane, south of Finch, the Mount Dennis area, Mount Pleasant and Eglinton (another high school), Pape Village, Greenwood Park, Kennedy subway station and its environs, and the Kingston Road and Morningside area.

The final location Charron examined are crimes which were reported to have happened in private residences. Largely concentrated in neighbourhoods with average employment incomes below $50,000 ⁄ year, the geographic pattern mimicked that of outdoor crime, especially outside the central part of the city. Charron found that crimes which occurred in houses were more likely to be property crimes, such as breaking and entering, theft and mischief. Crimes which occurred in apartments and other dwelling units were more likely to be violent offences. Residential crime was less likely to occur where there was a higher proportion of recent Canadian immigrants, where there are fewer youth or lower adult crime, or where local residents have access to more resources.

Charron concludes though by saying that neighbourhood characteristics, such as economic vulnerability, have less of an effect on youth crime than they do on adult crime — perhaps speaking to the early resiliency of youth.

More up-to-date data on crime in the city can be found through the Toronto Police Services Crime Statistics site and the City of Toronto’s Wellbeing Indices.
Crime hotspots across Toronto Neighbourhoods, A post on Charron’s earlier work
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