The impact of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games on crime in Vancouver.

Author:Andresen, Martin A.
  1. Introduction

Routine activity theory posits that a crime can occur only when a motivated offender and a suitable target converge in time and space without the presence of a capable guardian (Cohen and Felson 1979). Understanding changes in crime when considering routine activity theory does not require finding complex changes in the motivation of offenders. Rather, routine activity theory is a probabilistic theory: each of these convergences has a given probability of a criminal event taking place; if there is an increase or decrease in the number of convergences, there is a corresponding increase or decrease in the number of criminal events.

This lucid approach to understanding crime proves to be quite successful in several empirical studies that consider a variety of units of analysis. Routine activity theory proves to be instructive in understanding long-term crime trends at the macro level (Cohen and Felson 1979), variations in neighbourhood crime rates (Andresen 2006a, 2006b), and individual victimization based on lifestyle factors (Kennedy and Forde 1990). But is routine activity theory instructive for short-lived changes in the fundamental elements of crime that relate to an international sporting event?

The most fundamental aspect of routine activity theory is that the greater the number of convergences of motivated offenders and suitable targets without a capable guardian the greater the number of criminal events. Thus, any change in routine activities, however brief, is expected to affect the resulting number of criminal events. One form of this change in routine activities recently occurred in Vancouver, Canada: the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. This event altered all aspects of the convergences that are considered within routine activity theory. The Olympic Games increased the number of targets by bringing in athletes and tourists from around the globe. Research shows that visitors are vulnerable to criminal victimization because of differences in dress (tourist clothing, cameras, etc.) and their unfamiliarity with the local area (George 2003, 2010; Lepp and Gibson 2003; Ryan 1993). The Olympics may also have increased the number of motivated offenders because of the abundance of opportunities for crime: the many Olympic Games venues may have attracted offenders to take advantage of these new, and short-terre, opportunities for crime (Brantingham and Brantingham 1995). Lastly, such an event necessitates large numbers of security personnel (sworn police officers, military personnel, professional security guards, and volunteers) to be present, and this was the case particularly at Olympic Games venues. Clearly, the increased security may have affected the number of capable guardians. Because of all these changes, there is no a priori expectation with regard to crime and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver; there were more suitable targets, more motivated offenders, but more capable guardians--Cromwell, Dunham, Akers, and Lanza-Kaduce (1995) expect an overall increase in crime during a natural catastrophe.

Though the purpose of this article is not theoretical testing, because of these significant changes in the fundamental elements of crime, exceptional events are a natural experiment In the social sciences, such natural experiments are a unique opportunity to evaluate theories and policies. Because of ethical concerns, we are most often prevented from conducting controlled experiments similar to those performed in the sciences. Thus, social scientists should seize upon these opportunities when they become available. This natural experiment may be used to assess the applicability of routine activity theory when (albeit short-lived) changes occur in the presence of motivated offenders, suitable targets, and capable guardians.

In this article, we evaluate the impact of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games on crime in Vancouver. Using publicly available police data and a statistical trend analysis, we find that some crime classifications in some areas of Vancouver were affected by the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, but that the impact was moderate. In addition, we find that crime decreased in a few cases.

  1. Vancouver and the 2010 Winter Olympics

    The Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) is the third largest metropolitan area in Canada, based on population (currently approximately 2 million people), and the largest metropolitan area in western Canada. In 2006, according to census data, Vancouver had a population of 578,000. In recent years, Vancouver has experienced substantial growth in its resident population: 431,000 in 1986, 472,000 in 1991, 514,000 in 1996, and 546,000 in 2001. This high rate of growth has often been attributed to the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication that garnered Vancouver tremendous worldwide attention and is expected to continue because of the 2010 Winter Olympic Gaines. Vancouver's crime rate decreased between 1991 and 2006, by approximately 40%, though its crime rate remains substantially higher than the national average. Such a decrease in crime was present throughout the western world during this period (LaFree 1999; Levitt 2004; Farrell, Tseloni, Mailley, and Tilley 2011). However, the timing of the decline varied from place to place (some declines did not occur until the mid-1990s) and there are still oscillations. In fact, at 7,484 criminal code offences per 100,000 persons in 2010 (all Criminal Code incidents, excluding traffic offences), the Vancouver CMA had the highest crime rates among the three largest metropolitan areas in Canada, more than doubling the rate found in Toronto (3,563 per 100,000 persons) and 50% greater than in Montreal (5,099 per 100,000 persons). In addition, the same relative standing held for the 2010 violent and non-violent crime severity indexes for the Vancouver CMA (108.2 and 98.5, respectively) in comparison to those for the Toronto CMA (88.4 and 46.0, respectively) and the Montreal CMA (98.3 and 78.1, respectively), but to a lesser degree. Regardless, the differences in crime rates among these three cities have been converging in recent years (Kong 1997; Savoie 2002; Wallace 2003; Brennan and Dauvergne 2011). Curiously, there is no complete explanation for these differences. However, research points to the degree of population growth and urbanization (Giffen 1965, 1976), income inequality and social disorganization (Daly, Wilson, and Vasdev 2001; Kennedy, Silverman and Forde 1991), and inward migration (Hartnagel 1997).

    Though the 2010 Winter Olympics took place in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Whistler, and Cypress Mountain, this study focuses only on crime within the City of Vancouver--other Olympic Gaines venues and sites outside of Vancouver may be considered for future research. Despite this, Vancouver had many key events, such as the opening and closing ceremonies, pavilions for several countries, the Olympic Village, and four Olympic venues. Specifically, the four Olympic venues are of importance because they attracted more people to the area as compared to other neighbourhoods that did not have a venue or Olympic activities. With the expectation that there were greater numbers of people in these areas, the level of crime is expected to be higher, making it worthy of examination.

    We analysed 7 of Vancouver's official 24 neighbourhoods as well as Vancouver as a whole. Figure 1 shows the locations of these seven neighbourhoods and the Olympic venues within them; two of Vancouver's neighbourhoods (Musqueam and Stanley Park) were excluded from this map to ease the visualization of the neighbourhoods under analysis. These units of analysis were chosen because of their connections to the Olympic Games. The Central Business District is the hub of business and entertainment for Vancouver and also the Olympic Games; this area is a prime location for attractions, restaurants, and nightlife. In fact, selected streets were closed throughout the Olympic Games to allow people to travel freely to pavilions, events, and drinking establishments in the district. We specifically expect an increase in assault and mischief in the Central Business District because of the availability of alcohol and the large numbers of people. In addition, this neighbourhood contains two major stadiums that were used for the opening and closing ceremonies and the ice hockey event: BC Place and Canada Hockey Place, respectively. The Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood is essentially a residential area located in the northeast area of Vancouver. This neighbourhood is important because it was the site for figure skating and short-track speed skating. The Pacific Coliseum venue in this neighbourhood is also home to other local sporting events. The Nat Bailey Stadium is a venue for curling in the Riley Park neighbourhood of Vancouver.


    The four remaining neighbourhoods (Fairview, Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant, and West End) were chosen because of their close proximity to the central business district. Because they are neighbouring areas, it is expected that tourists and travellers were concentrated in these areas. In fact, the West End is the northern part of the downtown peninsula adjacent to the central business district. Both areas share similar characteristics in terms of entertainment and commercial businesses. Fairview is the site of Granville Island and is connected to the newly built Canada Line transportation system; Mount Pleasant, the site of the Olympic Village, is also connected to the Canada Line. Kitsilano is a trendy neighbourhood on the west side of Vancouver, with several different beaches and waterfront properties that attract tourists. All seven of these neighbourhoods and the City of Vancouver as a whole are expected to have been affected (positively or negatively) by the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, an exceptional event occurring over a period of two months.

  2. Exceptional events and crime

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