So how safe are we on the West Shore?

Fearful letters prompt Gazette to put question to West Shore RCMP, but it’s about more than just numbers

West Shore residents have been inundated recently with crime news from their community.

Such incidents as the pair of assaults on area paths in the past month, the stolen cars from Victoria being ditched in Colwood – one of which resulted in a local lake being scoured for a body that was never found – or the drug busts, gunfire and regular break-and-enters have left the community feeling worried, at least based on recent letters to the Gazette.

“I am a woman living in Langford and I have grown fearful of my community,” said Tara Sharp in the opening of her letter calling on the mayor and council to hire more police officers.

She said she “used to enjoy exploring my neighbourhood, walking the many paths and jogging local trails, but now I am too frightened to do that … I want to feel safe and right now I do not.”

Neil Henderson wrote to say, “My mom used to walk those trails all the time in past years, and now is afraid to in case she gets attacked, assaulted, or even worse. If one person is having this thought, I’m sure it is a thought that a lot of West Shore citizens are having, especially seniors and females.”

A spokesperson for West Shore RCMP indicates that it’s difficult to say whether the recent spate of crimes can be called a developing trend or is more of a temporary abnormality – a statistical blip – that will average out over time.

“It is difficult to comment on crime statistics focused on a short window of time,” said Const. Alex Berube.

“Longer periods of statistical analysis – such as (those) presented in the mayor’s report – provide a much more accurate overview of crime trends, and in turn the affects those trends have on community safety.”

The mayor’s report he speaks of is essentially the year-over-year analysis that is given by the department to the municipalities, to allow them to see what trends are developing and assess the success of policing efforts.

The most recent report, summarizing police activity on the West Shore in 2014 and how it compares to previous years, showed the overall number of police calls responded to in the region dropped by three per cent.

Between 2013 and 2014, the number of reported assaults in the coverage area actually decreased 12 per cent, from 746 in 2013 to 660 in 2014. Police actions related to possession, trafficking and production of narcotics went down eight, 21 and 48 per cent, respectively.

In order for things to balance out at a three-per-cent overall drop in crime, however, that means that some things went up.

Cases involving possession of stolen property increased 43 per cent during that time, from 80 cases in 2013 to 114 last year.

Other concerning categories that saw increases in numbers were sexual offences (six per cent), domestic violence cases (18 per cent) and reports of theft (eight per cent).

Insp. Larry Chomyn, who leads the detachment, says that while this is, indeed, a busier period than normal for the force, he fully expects things to balance out over time.

“We’ve had a few things happen close together, and the media has grabbed onto them a bit,” Chomyn said, “but then we might very easily have a few months of far fewer events,” adding that it’s very premature for people to overreact, as this could in no way be considered a “trend” at this point.

“At the end of the day, we’re still a very safe community. If there was a public safety warning that needed to be issued, we would absolutely do that. But it’s just not the case.”

Berube added that over a nine-year period, the West Shore has seen “a marked decline in violent crimes, which includes homicides, attempted homicides, sexual assault, assaults, etc.”

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