Saturday, February 24, 2024

What is Driving Recent Increases in Criminal Activity?

Stephen Vance, Editor

This community has been rightly concerned over the past week about the report of a home invasion style incident that took place in broad daylight last weekend.

According to police, last Saturday, shortly after lunch time, two men entered a home on Miller Street through an unlocked door and demanded cash from the homeowners.

One of the victims was taken to hospital as a precaution, and she was released that same day. The police referred to this crime as a ‘robbery with violence’, while the more common term for it is a home invasion.

This is a community that has already been on alert for several months, after a string of residential and business break-ins late last year reminded us that, while we may live in a sleepy little town when compared to larger urban centres, we are not immune from crime.

In a small town like ours, we’re used to the occasional break-in, we know that every now and then police might arrest someone for being intoxicated in public, or for assaulting a fellow citizen in the heat of an argument, but when we start reading week after week of one break-in after another, one fraud after another, and then we learn of a home invasion taking place, something we associate more with larger cities like Barrie or Mississauga, we can’t be blamed for feeling a little paranoid about what might be happening to our quaint, safe little town.

Recently the OPP detachment commander for Grey County stopped by Meaford’s council chamber to present his quarterly report. As is often the case with these reports, it was a mixed bag of good news and not so good news, but what has struck me over the past couple of years is that the crimes that have been on the increase recently are the types of crimes that happen when people are hurting, when a community is hurting.

Not to excuse any crime, or any perpetrator, but often certain types of crimes happen for a reason whether we realize it or not, and I wonder if the increases we’ve been seeing in property crimes, domestic assaults, and possibly some of the frauds that have been cropping up might be the result of stagnant if not declining real wages, the lack of quality employment opportunities, and all of the stresses that accompany those realities.

Let’s face it: crimes that involve stealing – whether residential break-ins, or bank robberies – are typically driven by a need for money. In a rosy economy where few are suffering, there’s less of a need to find that money through illegal activity.

Similarly, we all know that the number one cause of friction in any marriage or cohabitation arrangement is money, and when money gets tight couples can argue more often, and those arguments are likely more heated as a financial situation becomes more dire, so it would make sense that as people increasingly suffer financially, the number and intensity of arguments increase and as a result, domestic disturbance and assault incidents likewise increase.

And while many of the frauds reported in this municipality are initiated outside of the community and are inflicted on our residents by phone, a knock on the door by an obvious out-of-towner or by email, the driving force for fraud crimes is the need or desire to make money, and if people are having trouble earning money in the legitimate economy, the criminal economy is always waiting in the wings for those so inclined.

A job fair was held in Meaford last week. Employers were saying that they have difficulty finding employees in this town, yet I hear and see all around me people desperately in search of work. The problem might be how employers define employment these days compared to how workers would like, or perhaps rather, deserve employment to be. Several people commented on social media this week that there are plenty of people in this town in need of a job, but the jobs on offer at the job fair were largely part-time or seasonal, and most of those jobs offered minimum wage.

This is where our economy has been heading for a few decades now. Gone are the solid, secure, well-paying manufacturing jobs, and instead we’ve got low-paying precarious service jobs that don’t provide enough hours or income to provide a decent living.

In today’s economy people are increasingly faced with the reality of trying to juggle two or three part-time jobs, two or three competing employer schedules, and all for a minimum wage that can’t come close to providing the quality of life that just a few decades ago was taken for granted. There was a time, not so long ago, that a department store employee could support their family on that one income. In the 1970’s the wages earned by restaurant staff though lower than other professions, were still living wages. Not anymore.

Given the realities of today’s job market, and the increasingly difficult task of earning a true living wage, it is perhaps not surprising that these sorts of crimes are on the increase. So could the implementation of some sort of living wage policy help drive down these types of crimes? Could job creation through a massive infrastructure rehabilitation initiative help create some more well-paying, quality jobs help give people hope?

It seems to me that these might at the very least be debates worth having.

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