Ottawa, Ontario – Winnipeg has started to reverse its reputation as the auto theft capital of North America by taking a new approach that addresses the causes of crime.

A new publication by the Conference Board of Canada, Making Communities Safer: Lessons Learned Combatting Auto Theft in Winnipeg, describes how evidence-based crime prevention can make a tangible difference in crime rates by analyzing crime problems, determining their likely causes, and implementing programs to address them.

“Many Canadians would be surprised to learn that Canada has relatively high crime levels compared to some other developed countries, particularly with respect to property crime,” said Rick Linden, co-chair of the Manitoba Auto Theft Task Force and author of the briefing. “Based on Winnipeg’s efforts to reduce auto theft, an evidence-based approach to crime prevention holds the greatest promise for making communities safer. This approach addresses the causes of crime, rather than focusing exclusively on either ‘law and order’ measures or social programs.”

Auto theft rates in Winnipeg skyrocketed in the 1990s, and from 2003 to 2006, the city had the highest rates in North America. Authorities tackled the question of “why”, and found that auto theft had become part of the youth culture in some areas of the city, with vehicles stolen for joyriding or for use as temporary transportation.

Efforts to bring the rate of theft under control began in 2001, and in 2005, the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy was launched, which focused on controlling high-rate offenders, including curfews and check-ins for chronic offenders; installation of electronic immobilizers in vehicles; and programs that deal with the root causes of auto theft, with youths grouped into four categories by risk and with different approaches taken for each category. Data from the Winnipeg Public Service indicate that auto thefts dropped by 27 per cent in 2007, their lowest level since 2001, although attempted thefts rose by 9 per cent. Actual thefts were down a further 42 per cent in the first nine months of 2008.

The publication can be found at the Conference Board.

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