GENERAL ARTICLES

CRIME WAVE

A. S. MARSHALL April 15 1946
GENERAL ARTICLES

CRIME WAVE

A. S. MARSHALL April 15 1946

CRIME WAVE

A. S. MARSHALL

THE INSURANCE companies noticed it first. Between V-E and V-J Days the daily stream of claims for theft and holdup losses began to climb. When the increases continued into the autumn the insurance men knew they were dealing with no accidental rise in their loss ratios. From all parts of Canada ¡the claims kept coming in, more of them and bigger.

Suddenly there was a rash of crime news in the papers. One gang broke out of an Ontario jail, got away with $350,000 at Bath, Ont., in the largest bank holdup in the Canadian records, and was chased across four provinces before being cornered. Masked stick-up men jumped into the headlines from coast to coast. The postwar “crime wave” was on.

The police weren’t altogether surprised. They recalled the increase in crime after the last war.

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” said one detective with 40 years’ experience. “It’ll get worse for a couple of years before it gets better.”

Yet when the year-end police reports began to appear, they seemed to show no startling growth of crime in recent years. In some categories there had

actually been decreases, and here and there across Canada there appeared to be an over-all decrease. Why all the excitement?

Let’s look at the crime sheet for the city of Toronto in 1945. Toronto’s experience is roughly typical of the larger urban centres.

All told, Toronto police were notified of 35,061 crimes during the year. That was the highest figure in the city’s records, but it was only 1,419 more than the previous year. There were fewer bicycles stolen, fewer houses broken into, fewer of the assorted run of minor incidents which keep the police in a big city busy.

But in the crimes that make news there was a decided increase. Shopbreaking was up, theft was up, car stealing was up. The most spectacular rise was in armed robbery, which more than doubled, from 105 to 229.

That was the story across Canada. Montreal was

congratulating itself on having had a fairly lawabiding 1945 when 1946 began. By the end of .January the city had 25 major holdups, many lesser ones.

A holdup wave in Halifax coincided with the announcement of more rigorous law enforcement.

Winnipeg and Vancouver noted a rise m armed robberies. Even some of the smaller cities were not immune; North Bay, Ont., recorded a “remarkable increase,” and the chief of police asked the city council for tommy guns and tear gas to strengthen his force.

It wasn’t only the sensational nature of the crimes that made news. There was another alarming feature. This was the extreme youth of the criminals involved in many of the most spectacular cases.

When Toronto police arrested four youths in connection with the slaying of an elderly shopkeeper in his store the night after Christmas, the public was shocked at their ages: 16, 18, 19 and 20. Continued on page 8

Serious crime in Canada is increasing four times faster than the population—and teen-agers provide a quarter of all convictions

Continued from page 7

One of the few killings to attract national attention was the “sawdust bin slaying” of an 18-year-old girl in Victoria, B.C. A lad of 17, who had planned to study for the ministry, was arrested, accused of murder, and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years. He has appealed.

While most of the Ontario village of Markham was attending a special radio broadcast the town’s only bank was entered and looted. The two criminals got in through a window, climbed to the top of the vault, drilled through it, and got away with $56,000 in bonds and cash, several hundred dollars of it in small change. They bought a car with the change and were making what might have been a clean getaway two days later when a highway policeman became suspicious of them and arrested them. They pleaded guilty. Their ages: 16 and 17.

Two and three years ago the catchword in crime prevention and welfare circles was juvenile delinquency. That problem isn’t licked yet, but it seems to be on the mend. Today’s big problems are the young criminals 16 to 21. In the eyes of the law they’re adults—dangerous, irresponsible young adults who are incorrigible before they are old enough to vote.

Today they’re keeping our reformatories and jails filled. Tomorrow they’ll be crowding our penitentiaries.

From talks to police, welfare workers and court officials this composite picture of today’s problem adolescent emerges.

He’s a solidly built well-nourished city lad approaching his twenties. He comes from native stock—you can’t blame the immigrants for this crime w^ve. His mentality is just average—he’s not bright, not dumb. His family is working class, far from poverty-stricken now but often with a relief history from the early thirties. There’s apt to be discord in his home. It may be due to overcrowding, the kind that sees the youngsters packed off to the movies of nights to get them from under foot, or it may spring from marital disharmony.

The typical wayward youth is apt to be sexually precocious. As one welfare worker put it, he’s seen, heard and done things no youngster should see, hear or do. But that doesn’t mean he commits sex crimes. There’s been no remarkable change in that category of crime. The driving force of our problem youth is not passion or abnormality—it’s the desire for money.

For he has reached young manhood in a time of easy money. He or some of his friends have been known to make as much as $60 a week in now vanished war plant jobs at an age when most boys are in school and still depending on the “old man” for pocket money.

Don’t Blame the Veteran

THE typical young criminal is not a war veteran.

Police testimony on that is almost unanimous. It’s not the men who became accustomed to firearms and death overseas who are causing the trouble, it’s civilians who were either too young for uniform while the war was on or stayed out of the services because they were in prison. There were criminals in the services—plenty of them—but they are either still serving out sentences they earned for offences they committed while in uniform or they’re lying low until their gratuities are exhausted. Whatever the reason, the veteran of Hitler’s war is still a relative stranger to the criminal courts. The pistols he brought home as souvenirs have been shoved in many a face from coast to coast, but it was usually civilians who held them.

But if today’s crook hasn’t seen the inside of a barracks, he’s most likely seen the inside of a jail. Some of them have piled up amazing prison records in a short time.

Take the case of a boy we’ll call George, now 21. He was first sentenced to reformatory for theft in 1941, and released in the fall of that year. In the following two and one-half years he was in and out of the reformatory four times on a series of convictions for minor crimes. After his release in April, 1944, work was found for him and he kept out of the hands of the police until January of this year, when he was picked up with two companions, 17 and 18, for stealing an automobile. A magistrate gave him two years less a day at his Alma Mater, the reformatory.

“Make it two years straight so I can go to penitentiary and learn a trade,” George begged. “They only teach you more crime in the reformatory.”

The magistrate obliged, but George was mistaken. He won’t learn a trade at penitentiary; he’ll get a postgraduate course in crime.

It’s no encouragement to take the long view about the present crime wave. For, measured in terms of decades, what we’re going Continued on page 53

Continued from page 8

through now isn’t a “wave” at all— it’s a return to normal after a wartime spell of good behavior.

The fact is, Canada has been growing more and more lawless since the turn of the century. In that time the popula-

tion has slightly more than doubled, but the number of convictions for all sorts i of lawbreaking, from murder down to | spitting on the sidewalk, has increased ! 15-fold.

Many of these convictions were for j offenses the ordinary citizen wouldn’t call crimes. Traffic violations, negligible in 1901 when there were few cars, account for 60% of the convictions registered in Canada. The law may not like it if you let a dog run, or create a nuisance by burning leaves, but that doesn’t make you a criminal.

When police and public talk about criminals they’re thinking of those who commit what the law calls indictable offensesroughly definable as wrongdoing so serious that the accused may choose trial by jury rather than a summary trial by judge or magistrate. Theft, robbery, arson, rape, bigamy, cruelty to children and embezzlement are typical indictable offenses.

Convictions for indictable offenses have been growing four times as fast as the population. In 1901 there were 5,638, or 105 for every 100,000 of population. By 1939 convictions had swollen to 48,107, or 425 for every

100.000 Canadians. The number shrank during the war to 38,309 during 1942. Éut that was the low mark. Next year they went up, and in 1944, the last year for which there are complete records, there were 42,511 convictions, or 355 for every 100,000.

Crime among the 16-20 age group has increased even faster—it’s up sixfold. In 1901 there were a mere 819 convictions for indictable offenses of males in that age class. By 1931 .there were 6,840. In 1944 the appalling total was 10,737, a quarter of all convictions.

If the crime aftermath of this war follows the pattern set after the last conflict, there will be a sharp increase for two or three years, a slight falling off, and then an implacable rise until, by 1965, we have twice as much major lawbreaking as there is today.

There’s one place in Canada where you get an over-all picture of crime. It’s the fingerprint file of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa, where filing cabinet after filing cabinet holds the fingerprints and records of

600.000 Canadians who have fallen into the hands of the law. When a criminal is arrested on a serious charge,

or when he is sent to jail or peni| tentiary, his description and finger; prints are sent to this file, which adds his conviction to any previous record he may have.

When the ROMP are able to identify a fingerprint as the same as one they have, it means its owner has a police record. Just before the war the bureau was receiving about 50,000 prints yearly and identifying around 12,000. That is, about one person in four who fell into the hands of the police was known to them.

During the wartime slump in crime the flow of fingerprints fell off. During 1942-43, the low year, just under

38.000 prints were received, but the number of identifications was up to 17,000. Last year almost 40,000 prints were received, and about half of them were identified. ,

The Old Offenders

This points to an alarming increase in habitual criminality, what is technically known as recidivism—the return of a released jailbird to his criminal ways. The court records bear out this deduction. In 1944 nearly one in every three persons convicted of indictable offenses was a “repeater,” who had been found guilty twice or more. To put it on a population basis, for every

100.000 Canadians there were 112 convictions of repeaters.

Keep that 112 in mind for a moment. In 1934 the corresponding figure was 82. In 1924 it was 35. And in 1901, before the crime rate began its march to present levels, it was only 23.

The Archambault Report of 1938, the result of a monumental Royal Commission enquiry into the nation’s penal system, took grave note of the rise in repeater convictions. The soaring figures, said the report, “cast a grave reflection on the method of treating convicted prisoners in Canada . . . The present system is neither effecting reformation nor affording protection to society against further offenses by prisoners when liberated.”

Repeaters cost money. Some habitual offenders have piled up incredible police records. The Archambault Commission looked into the cases of 188 ! habituais serving penitentiary sentences and found that 50 had more than 20 convictions each against them. The Commission calculated that the State had spent more than $4,600,000 capturing, arresting, trying and punishing the 188, and that estimate took no account of the losses of the victims of their crimes or the cost of maintaining the criminals’ dependents while they were in prison.

The worst offender among the Archambault 188 had 75 convictions, but that record has often been surpassed. There are many habitual offenders who spend more time in prison than at liberty. One notorious character in RCMP records crowded 175 convictions into 37 misspent years.

What does it all add up to?

It means that Canada, which has always taken for granted its crime rate WHH a model for North America, is failing to keep crime down. And the failure is worst among the lads of 16 to 20, who’ll form the hardened ; criminal class of tomorrow.

What’s the answer?

The police have two suggestions— “Give us more men,” and, “Punish the I wrongdoers!”

Chief Constable George Smith of | Winnipeg quoted British and American j authorities to show that the ideal ratio is one constable to every 550 citizens. Westmount, Montreal’s gold-plated suburb, is the only city in Canada to reach that standard. Montreal is not far behind, but most other centres are far from it.

More police would help, but by itself it wouldn’t stop crime. “If we had a constable to watch every citizen we’d still have crime,” said one officer.

Give Them the Lash

What the police are most insistent on is stiffer laws. The Chief Constables Association of Canada is on record for more “backbone” in the criminal code and on the bench. It wanL penitentiary terms and the lash for crimes of violence involving firearms. It wants a law that will put habitual offenders away indefinitely in a Canadian version of Alcatraz. It wants pistols forbidden to all but the police and armed services, watchmen, mail and bank clerks and others in like occupations.

The public has seized on the lash as a symbol of punishment which, it hopes, will teach criminals a lesson. Mayor Robert Saunders of Toronto wasexpresj sing the popular view when he said, “I believe in the lash. Nothing stops crime more than the certainty of punishment.” A Gallup Poll showed that six Canadians in 10 agree with him.

But welfare workers argue that ! punishment isn’t enough - any satisI factory treatment of criminals must ! reform them as well. That is something our prison system is not doing. George, whose record was mentioned earlier in this article, had been punished often enough, but his testimony that the reformatory is a school for crime is amply borne out by the Archambault : report.

For more than a year the members of the Royal Commission travelled in this country and abroad, hearing evidence from prisoners, keepers and experts on penology. They saw at firsthand the conditions in our Federal penitentiaries and provincial jails.

In 1938 they brought out a withering ‘ report. They found that Canada’s I system of handling criminals was in : large measure merely breeding criminals. Young offenders were being sent to reformatories for short sentence j after short sentence. Each time they emerged they were more hardened than before. Nowhere, not even in peni! tentiaries, could they learn a trade ! which would enable them to fit more 1 easily into normal life. This misconception has been abetted by official penitentiary reports and, despite the Royal Commission exposé eight years ago, is still held by many people, including magistrates—as witness the case of George.

The commissioners made 88 specific recommendations to th« Government, practically all of which have been ignored. They advised segregation for life for incorrigible habitual criminals. They wanted a universalj probation system, which would give first offenders a chance to mend their ways without being thrown into the company of experienced criminals. They recommended that Canada set up a chain of training prisons modelled on the British Borstal system, which has shown great success in rehabilitating repeater crimi| nais between the ages of 16 and 23.

Borstal is not for the first offender, who usually goes on probation in Britain, and it’s not for depraved and vicious boys whose crime is so heinous they must be segregated. It’s for the lads like George, who would otherwise drift from jail to jail until they wind up in penitentiary and emerge as seasoned expert crooks.

Borstals resemble private schools. The boys work and study long, hard hours, but discipline is not as strict as in prison; they are allowed recreation and sports, and in some cases they aren’t even locked in at night. When their term, usually three years, is completed, they are taken in hand by members of the volunteer Borstal

i Association, who help them find work and guide them during their readjust-1 ment to civilian life.

The combination of the probation and Borstal systems in Britain is working. While youthful crime has been on the increase in Canada and almost every other country, it has been steadily falling in Britain.

Institution of Borstals would mean a complete overhaul of the Canadian penal setup, under which prisoners sentenced to less than two years arbitrarily go to provincial reformatories or jails, and prisoners sentenced to two years or more are sent to Federal penitentiaries. The Archambault report recommended centralizing all Canadian prisons, with a few minor exceptions, under a Federal prison commission.

Develop Probation

A probation system, however, could be established readily. It operates now in our juvenile courts, where it is used not only to keep track of children released without sentence but also to compile a complete record of the accused’s background for the use of the judge who must decide his fate. When a boy or girl under 16 goes before a juvenile court judge, the court makes it its business to uncover his or her whole history, including illness, family circumstances, school record, ambition in life, and ability at sports or hobbies.

But when a boy of 16 gets into trouble the law considers him an adult, to be tried and punished according to adult standards. Its only concern is whether he did or did not commit the crime, not why he committed it. His punishment is laid down to fit his crime, and takes little account of either his past record or his home life.

Welfare workers recognize the age group between 16 and 21 as the most neglected in the population. They’re too old for the Scouts and boys’ clubs but have yet to find a place in the adult world. Not all of them are cut out for competitive sports; they must find their recreation where they can. That “where” is all too often the corner pool room.

There are other obvious factors which might lead a boy of this age into crime. Poor environment, unemployment, lack of parental control, the evil influence of lurid movies, radio programs and literature have all been blamed time and again.

Actually, because these boys have never been studied carefully, there’s no one can tell just why, of two boys raised in what appear to be exactly the same circumstances, one should go wrong and the other should become a respected member of the community.

As Dr. W. E. Blatz, director of the Institute of Child Study of the University of Toronto and consultant psychiatrist of the Toronto Juvenile Court, points out:

“Our Government will spend millions to make atomic bombs, but it won’t spend a cent to find out how children grow up. Our whole penal system is wrong. It’s based on revenge. It’s just blind punishment of those we don’t know how to handle.”

What’s his solution?

“All terms of sentence should be indeterminate. We should put wrongdoers in prison for as long as it takes to teach them not to commit crime, no matter how long that is.”

Dr. Blatz admits that just how to go about teaching a criminal not to be one is a problem in itself—but believes we’ll never find out without trying.

“We just don’t know enough about criminals yet,” he said, “but my guess is that if we really tried it, we could in time eliminate most of our crime.”