March 7, 2023

Exposing School Violence Using Halifax Crime Data

Data reporting on school incidents of bullying and physical and sexual violence from the province is limited and seldom highlighted in the media. Concerned parents’ phone calls aren’t being returned by our government. Education workers have the highest rate of workplace violence in the province. The crisis we have in our education system is being downplayed by our elected officials in the media. Thanks to ‘privacy concerns’ cited when anyone queries schools, RCEs or the province about these issues, it would appear the goal is to avoid having to acknowledge there is a growing and very troubling concern in our schools.

Many parents are oblivious until their own child is involved in a situation. In an effort to shine some light on a condition that impacts everyone attending or working in schools, we want to highlight how prevalent this problem actually is.

Halifax Regional Police and Halifax District RCMP publish a rolling seven-day data set of police crime responses for Halifax Regional Municipality. This information is updated daily at 12:15 AM and contains data points on five crime categories:

  • Robberies
  • Assaults
  • Break and enters
  • Theft of vehicles
  • Thefts from vehicles

The HRM Open Data Portal allows you to download these data points into a spreadsheet, and even view the data points on a map. From a privacy perspective the geolocation coordinate data is “fuzzy.” Crimes are plotted at the mid-point of the nearest block and are not associated with specific civic addresses. The latitude and longitude coordinates may not be exactly where a crime occurred, but it’s close enough to prove very useful.

We were able to pull 18 months’ worth (9400 records) of HRM crime data from an anonymous 3rd party who’s been collecting it since mid-2021. Each record contains the type of crime, the geolocation coordinates of the crime, and the event date.

Our goal was to determine if any correlations or patterns exist in the crime data related to the schools inside Halifax Regional Municipality. Specifically, we wanted to understand the nature and rate of crime occurring within various distances of schools.

The results, in our opinion, were alarming.

The Process

In order to highlight the results, we must show the methodology and logic used to build the result set. The “how” is always critical when talking about statistics.

First, we downloaded a list of schools in HRM from the Nova Scotia government’s website which includes the civic addresses and we determined the map coordinates for each school.

Second, we needed additional locations to cross-reference against crime and school locations. We settled on over one hundred church locations in HRM. We chose churches because they reside in similar locations as schools: primarily residential areas but many in commercial areas as well.

In layperson’s terms, we want to know how many crimes occurred within set distances from each school and church. Specifically, is there a reduction of crime near schools or churches during summer months (July/August)? We used distances of 200 and 100 meters as our comparison points.

The Results

Fig 1. Average number of crimes per month near churches

Within a 200-meter radius of a church, the monthly average number crimes are reduced in the summer by 2.47%. Within 100 meters there is no change.

When we look at crime data near schools, the monthly average changes drastically when the school year is complete and summer starts. During summer months there is a 25.26% reduction in crime for locations within 200 meters of schools and a 32.67% reduction in overall crime when the radius is reduced to 100 meters.

Fig 2. Average number of crimes per month near schools

Assaults are a far more important number to track since that’s one of the crimes usually seen in and around schools. Parents aren’t discussing how many cars are stolen each week at their children’s schools. Parents are discussing the TikTok videos of a child who was beaten in a washroom by six other students.

Churches see a small to moderate increase in the average number of summer assaults of 9.27% and 32.62% within a 200 and 100-meter radius respectively. Schools on the other hand, see a drastic reduction in assaults of 38.86% and 65.63% for those same distances during summer months!

What about days of the week?

In the following table, you’ll see that during Fall/Winter/Spring months where schools and churches have 0.94 and 0.96 assaults per weekday respectively, yet schools drop 40.54% on weekends while churches rise by 56.75%. During summer months, assaults are both up 22.34% and 61.76% for schools and churches on weekends compared to weekdays.

When you go a little closer at 100 meters, for Fall/Winter/Spring there’s a 61.71% reduction in average daily assaults near schools on weekends. Summer values are so incredibly low that the weekend values are meaningless.

What Schools are Notable?

We’ve established a correlation between police responses to assaults and the proximity to schools. The frequency is also concerning. What schools have the highest numbers of police activity for assaults in their immediate areas?

These schools had the highest average police calls for assault per month within 200 meters:

We should note that there are two elementary schools on this list: Joseph Howe and Saint Mary’s. Each exhibit higher police activity within 200 meters. However, neither of those two schools has a dramatic reduction in the summer months compared to the school year. The crime numbers around Saint Mary’s Elementary actually increases during the summer by 88.24%, while those around Joseph Howe Elementary drops by 20%. Both are located in relatively higher crime areas.

Each of the others schools are either high schools, junior high schools or P-9 and all have significant decreases in average monthly assaults going into summer, from 20.57% through 100%. The immediate Dartmouth High area sees a dramatic drop (58.82%) in average HRM police responses to assaults in the summer. Bicentennial’s immediate area sees a 100% drop for assaults and it is located right next door. During Fall, Winter and Spring, the Dartmouth High immediate area saw 68 assault calls while Bicentennial saw 15. The difference? Bicentennial is grades P-9 while Dartmouth High is grades 9-12. Once again, the province’s claim that “75% of violent incidents are recorded at the P-6 grade levels” does not add up. It’s time to provide clear evidence behind this claim.

At the 100 meter distance, five of the following eight schools with the highest assaults per month rate have a 100% reduction in reported police assault calls, including the aforementioned Dartmouth High who’s area had the highest average rate of assault calls at the 200 meter range.

As well, below are the schools who had a high number of 200-meter proximity-related assaults in those last 18 months.

Context is very important. We can’t simply label a school as a “bad school” or chalk up high-proximity police responses due to simply “being in a bad neighborhood.” There are many factors at play. However, what we must deal with are the facts about high assault rates within published law enforcement data. Are there high crime areas that schools exist within? Absolutely. And there are challenges to provide solutions with any high crime area.

What we found really troubling when taking this data at its word, is that there were only 275 assaults within 200 meters of a school reported to police during the 2021-2022 school year, while there were actually 13,776 violent incidents reported by schools? Why are the police not being called to schools more often? Why hasn’t the NS Department of Education provided vast amounts of incident statistics by school and grade? Transparency is essential, if parents are to believe schools are safe. The absence of information does not reduce concern.

We demand the following:

  1. Police departments across the province should publish full crime data with map coordinates.
  2. The Government of Nova Scotia must regularly release full and detailed statistics on school incidents of all types.
  3. What is government’s plan for the shortage in education staff caused by the lack of supports and solutions for staff dealing with violence, verbal abuse, harassment and other trauma while working in NS Public Education.

If we do not have access to the facts as a community, we can’t advocate for students and staff, and therefore can’t provide solutions. We need the facts to move forward constructively. Insight into what our public schools are really like should NOT be kept secret.

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