As performance improvement professionals we must always differentiate between perception and fact. Because perception and emotion can affect decisions and policies, we are the ones who need to stand for fact-based decisions. This is not to say that perception or emotions are bad. But decisions made without recognition of fact versus perception is risky indeed.
One example of the importance of looking at the facts is crime. This is not merely an academic exercise. Government policies involving mandatory jail times and investing billions of dollars in new jail cells is often swayed, as is public opinion, by the perception of criminality and the reality.
For example, according to Statistics Canada, the national rate of violent and property crime per 100,000 people in Canada has fallen to its lowest level since 1977.
Yet the perception often exists that our society is more dangerous. A possible explanation is the sheer quantity of news programming, such as channels dedicated 24 hours per day to news that repeats the same news item continuously. Some researchers hypothesize that our brains perceive the size of the threat with the number of impressions we experience.
One of the most prominent consultants on public perception of risk versus the reality of risk is Dr. Peter Sandman, who formulated that Risk = Hazard + Outrage, where Hazard is how much harm something is likely to do and Outrage is how upset people are. A crime story repeatedly and sensationally broadcast ad nauseam might well create both the perception of a high frequency of incidents as well as stoke feelings of outrage out of proportion to the actual hazard level.
Another myth is that large cities are more dangerous than small communities. But the facts tell a different story. From the 2009 Statistics Canada data, we can create a scatter plot of violent crimes per 100,000 people compared to the size of the city or town.
Of the places with more than 5,500 violent crimes per 100,000, there are only two large cities with over 1 million in population: Vancouver and Edmonton.
If we remove these two cities from the scatter plot, we can focus in on the towns with the highest violent crime per capita: Regina, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Victoria, Winnipeg, Brantford, Saint John, Abbotsford, St. John’s, Halifax, London, Moncton, Barrie.
Other than Vancouver and Edmonton, the only other large cities with crime rates above 5,000 per 100,000 are Montreal, Calgary, and Kitchener Ontario. The city with the lowest violent crime rate per capita is also the largest city: Toronto with a rate of 3,802.