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Murder By Numbers, Part One

In the comments to the entry titled The Boxing Day Shooting, an anonymous commenter pointed me to a Globe and Mail article, Do We Need a Boston Miracle?  

The article ends with a table of the murder rates for a number of North American cities. Before I show it to you, let me first explain what is meant by the term “murder rate”.

“Murder Rate” Does Not Mean “Number of Murders”!

Many people misuse the term “murder rate” or “homicide rate” — they often use it when speaking of the number of people who have been murdered. The word rate implies a ratio, which is a mathematical term for a relationship between at least two numbers. For example, let’s take the recipe for one of the simplest cocktails out there: the screwdriver. Most bartender’s manuals recommend 2-to-1 ratio of orange juice to vodka, which means that for every 2 ounces of orange juice, you use 1 once of vodka. Want to use up a 10-ounce can of orange juice? Then you need 5 ounces of vodka handy. Got a pint of vodka? Then you’ll need a quart of OJ. Want a stiffer drink? Change the ratio of orange juice to vodka to 1-to-1. Want something a little less boozy? Make the ratio 3-to-1.

The murder rate is also a ratio: it’s a ratio of the number of murders in a given area to the population of that area. This number is a little more meaningful than just the number of murders in an area alone. Think about it this way: suppose a village of 500 people experiences 50 murders in a year. That’s a big chunk of the village: the ratio of murdered people to population is 1 to 10, which can also be expressed as “1:10” or “10 percent”. You could rightfully claim that the town has been decimated (the colloquial use of the term “decimated” is “killed a substantial amount”; the original meaning was “killed one-tenth”). Now imagine a city of 5 million people experiencing 50 murders in a year. That city’s ratio of people murdered to population rate is 1 to 100,000, or “1:100,000” or “one-thousandth of one percent”.

Since murder ratios (as well as other crime rates) are typically small numbers — usually some teeny fraction of one percent — they are typically expressed in terms of murders per 100,000 people; this is called the murder rate. The city of 5 million with 50 murders in a year that I mentioned in the previous paragraph has a murder rate of 1 (that is, one person for every 100,000 was murdered). The village of 500 with the same number of murders has a murder rate of 10,000!

Recent Murder Rates

United States

To give you an idea of what murder rate numbers are typically like, take a look at this table of murder rates in the US spanning the years 2001 through 2004 (taken from this page). Remember, this is a chart of murder rates, meaning that the numbers here are murders per 100,000 people.

Table 1: Murder Rates for Various Regions in the U.S., 2001 – 2004
Region 2001 2002 2003 2004
South 6.7 6.8 6.9 6.6
West 5.5 5.7 5.7 5.7
Midwest 5.3 5.1 4.9 4.7
Northeast 4.2 4.1 4.2 4.2
National average 5.6 5.6 5.7 5.8

A little quick mental math reveals that the average murder rate for the entire United States for this period is 5.6.


Let’s look at the murder rates for the provinces and territories of Canada for the years 2000 through 2004 (data from Statistics Canada):

Table 2: Murder Rates for Provinces and Territories in Canada, 2000 – 2004
Province/Territory 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
  murders per 100,000 population
Canada 1.78 1.78 1.86 1.73 1.95
Newfoundland and Labrador 1.14 0.19 0.39 0.96 0.39
Prince Edward Island 2.20 1.46 0.73 0.73 0.00
Nova Scotia 1.61 0.97 0.96 0.85 1.39
New Brunswick 1.33 1.07 1.20 1.07 0.93
Quebec 2.04 1.89 1.58 1.32 1.47
Ontario 1.34 1.43 1.47 1.45 1.51
Manitoba 2.61 2.95 3.12 3.70 4.27
Saskatchewan 2.58 2.70 2.71 4.12 3.92
Alberta 1.96 2.29 2.25 2.03 2.69
British Columbia 2.10 2.06 3.06 2.26 2.67
Yukon Territory 6.57 3.32 0.00 3.27 22.43
Northwest Territories 2.47 9.80 9.64 9.48 9.34
Nunavut 10.91 10.67 6.96 10.29 13.49

Wow — when people said that it was cold in the Territories, I thought they were only talking about the temperature! More quick math reveals that the average murder rate across Canada for this period is 1.82.

The World’s Most Murderous Places

Let’s go outside the relatively safe bubble of North America and look at the ten countries with the highest murder rates in the period spanning 1998 – 2000 (data from, which got its info from the 7th United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems):

Table 3: Murder Rates in the Top Ten Countries, 1998 – 2000
Country Murder Rate
(Murders per 100,000 population)
Colombia 61.8
South Africa 49.6
Jamaica 32.4
Venezuela 31.6
Russia 20.1
Mexico 13.0
Estonia 10.7
Latvia 10.4
Lithuania 10.3
Belarus 9.8

2004 Murder Rates for Various North American Cities

Here are the 2004 murder rates for various American and Canadian cities, a listed in the Globe and Mail article. I’ve highlighted Toronto in red.

Table 4: Murder Rates for Various North American Cities, 2004
City 2004 Murder Rate
(Murders per 100,000 population)
Montreal 1.7
Toronto 1.8
Vancouver 2.6
Boston 2.6
Edmonton 3.4
Winnipeg 4.9
New York 5
Dallas 7.3
San Francisco 7.3
Washington 7.9
Houston 8.0
Los Angeles 8.6
Detroit 10.0
Baltimore 12.5
New Orleans 25.5

A minute’s worth of spreadsheet work makes this data easier to visualize (click the graph below to see it at full size):

Graph 1: Murder Rates for Various North American Cities, 2004

I’ve got to get to work, so I’ll stop here and write more later. In the meantime, if you’ve got anything to say about these statistics or the current situation in Toronto, please feel free to do so in the comments.

13 replies on “Murder By Numbers, Part One”

Thanks so much for this breath of fresh air (or reason) on this way-too-sensationalized topic. Lisa in Toronto

Yet another good reason to leave the west for the Orient. Notice how Asian countries do not even register on any of those lists.

North America, the once great melting pot, is showing exactly what happens when you take away the strong traditions of old cultures and replace them with capitalism. You end up with high divorce rates, split families, drug abuse, and crime.

Thanks Joey.

What about suicide rates? And deaths resulting from those 74,000 demonstrations a year in China I keep hearing about?

You are listening to North American propganda way too much. How about the 250,000 Iraqis killed by American thugs under Bush’s rule?

China is not an expansionist nation. They border Thailand to the north and no one worries about them. China is friendly. Look at European and US history. Exactly how many countries have been invaded by the Whhite settler in hopes of bringing civilization to the people of color? Gag me.

All governments do what they need to do to hold on to power. Look at what the USA does with suspicious Muslims. They disappear overnight and are held without being charged.

China is depicted negatively at every turn by the North American media because China is growing and Asian society is better than the West’s. Trust me.

Thanks so much for the perspective! It’s really ridiculous the reputation Toronto has received from these incidents. They’re sad, and we must act, but from the newspapers you’d think Toronto was a war zone.

Bangkok Spammer: Many of the things you’re saying are true, however, I’ve been to China, Thailand, and Malaysia, and I can honestly say that I would take Toronto over any city I visited in those countries any day. It has less poverty, and the government is much less authoritarian. Though the western media gives Asia, especially China, a bad rap, Canada really is a very nice country to live in.

Why are you hiding under your anonymous postings?

I’ve been to Toronto and to many other parts of Canada. It is a nice country but I’d take Thailand over Canada any day of the week. I have a driver and two live in maids. I haven’t washed dishes or cleaned laundry in many years.

If you have money, SE Asia offers a hell of a lot more than North America. Also, Thailand has experienced tremendous growth in the past 5 years so come back and have a look at the “new” Thailand.

Now, please use a legitimate account to post messages. You must be the person who posted anonymous harassing messages on this blog that commented on the Toronto movers story, right?

“Best” is relative. The thousands of people executed in China every year would disagree with you. There are more “dissidents” that disappear and become jailed in China than in the US, by far. Look at what the Chinese government does with them!

Governments holding power? Like making military NUCLEAR threats if a democratic state wishes to define its own path. Friendly? Tell that to Tibet.

> Why are you hiding under your anonymous postings?

Username: bkkspammer

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We all have blood on our hands. The USA has much more blood on its hands than China. If you are arguing for the merits of Canada, then I am more sympathetic but remember, Canada was formed through the replacement of millions of Native Americans.

The world is a brutal place. It basically boils down to doing the right thing for yourself and your family. For me, that means living in Thailand where I enjoy many more freedoms than I do in North America – like no speed limits, very low car insurances, limted government regulations, etc…

I am what I say I am. Actually, I am an ex-spammer living in Bangkok. I’ve used and tested hundreds of black market software programs. I got great returns on my spam because I worked at it very hard and knew what I was doing. Spam is greatly misunderstood and has be wrongly vilified.

This is another great reason to live in Thailand. ISP’s don’t shut you down for spamming.

I choose not to provide a homepage and photo because I am not into self-promotion.

Oh god! Should I start digging up slave stories from US history? If you are looking for current events, look no further than Iraq.

The US monitors the press too, including blogs. Free speech is a fallacy. Try publishing a radical anti-capaitalism book in the West. It won’t see the light of day.

The US has the highest prison population in the world.

Amnesty International lists the USA as the #1 human rights violater in the world. Wake up!

It is just that you, Mr. Conformist, see everything as “right” there and “wrong” here.

Look up the word ethnocentric, if your limited intellect allows you such skills.

You’re both dumb, so shut up. Each country has its pros and cons. You have to actually live there to find out what the pros are because the media, and the government does a good job of giving you the cons of every country other than their own. So, until you have actually spent a long time living in a country or have visited that country more than two times do not say bad things about that country.

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