Police-reported crime dropped by five per cent in 2008, according to a Statistics Canada report, which also found a decline in the severity of those crimes.

According to the report, there were 77,000 fewer reported crimes last year, including:

  • 28,000 fewer thefts of $5,000 and under
  • 22,000 fewer break-ins
  • 20,000 fewer motor vehicle thefts

The drop marked the fifth consecutive year that police-reported crime fell in Canada.

Most experts acknowledge that reported crime rates do not accurately reflect the actual overall crime rate, according to Vincent Sacco, a crime expert from Queen's University's department of sociology.

Researchers believe that only about half of all crimes get reported, he told CTV.ca in a telephone interview.

"It's absolutely true that these data refer only to crimes that the police know about, so there is a dark figure of unreported crime," Sacco said. "That goes without saying. But on the positive side, probably a lot of the crimes that we worry about the most -- for example, homicide, break-and-enter, car theft -- tend to be reported reasonably faithfully by the public."

Many crimes that go unreported, according to Sacco, are those such as petty thefts that police can do little about. However, there are some violent crimes that go unreported because victims fear retaliation from the perpetrator, such as sexual assaults, domestic assaults and gang violence.

Statistics Canada also reported Tuesday that crime severity was down in almost every province, particularly in Manitoba, where the Police-reported Crime Severity Index (PRCSI) was down 14 per cent.

The PRCSI did increase in one province: Prince Edward Island, by seven per cent. However, it was still lowest in the country, at 68.

Crime severity was highest in the North and West, with Saskatchewan posting a PRCSI of 156 in 2008, well above the national average of 90. The PRCSIs in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories were double that of Saskatchewan.

According to Sacco, "nobody really knows" why crime severity is highest in the West, but some experts theorize it's caused by a deficit of so-called "social capital," or how interconnected people are.

"I think the argument is that the West tends to be a more both socially and geographically mobile place, that the social capital is not as well developed in the West as in the East," Sacco said.

"(And) the more remote communities are, the more difficult it is to build those permanent sorts of networks that have all kinds of effects on us that tend to make us behave ourselves -- and also protect us from other people."

While reported incidents of violent crime also fell, the decline was less notable: 3 per cent. There were 3,500 fewer reported violent incidents in 2008, including 2,000 fewer robberies, and a 10 per cent drop in attempted murders.

However, homicides, which make up less than one per cent of violent crime, increased in 2008.

There were 611 homicide victims last year, up 17 from 2007. Manitoba posted the highest homicide rate among the provinces, with a rate of 4.5 murders per 100,000 population.

New Brunswick had the lowest homicide rate at 0.4 per 100,000 population.

The agency also reported that police-reported impaired driving was on the rise for the second straight year, up six per cent in 2008. However, rates of reported drug-offences remained unchanged over 2007.

StatsCan also said that the reported crime rate for youths between the ages of 12 and 17 fell by five per cent in 2008, the fourth decline in five years. The youth violent crime rate dropped three per cent.

While a drop in overall crime rates is an encouraging trend for Canadians, such reports on crime statistics tend to put their focus on criminal activity rather than on the fact that Canada's cities are quite safe.

"I think the one thing that gets lost in all of this always is the fact that when you think internationally and when you think in a comparative sense, we do live in a pretty safe society," Sacco said. "Even our most dangerous neighbourhoods don't compare in any substantial way to the most dangerous neighbourhoods in other countries of the world."