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LETTER: Perceptions of crime may be accurate

Good governance and a thriving economy become extremely difficult to achieve when residents are preoccupied with crime and their personal safety.

There are reasons why Victoria residents perceive there’s an increase in crime, that are not addressed by the recent article ‘Why many Victoria residents may perceive an increase in crime.’

Headlines in the same Victoria News issue – ‘Man shot at Royal Jubilee last month, arrested at hospital for weapons possession’ and ‘Man arrested after allegedly chasing Victoria security guards while wielding knife’ – suggest there’s much more to the story.

The total volume of crimes remains substantial.

As a generalization, it’s true overall crime rates are relatively level over the last decade, and lower than two decades ago. That said, our population has increased dramatically over those periods, so the number of actual crimes remains troublesome.

There’s a different set of numbers presented in the document from Stats Canada for Victoria-Esquimalt. In recent years, the percentage change in the overall crime rate is escalating: In 2017, the crime rate was 10,431 per 100,000, moving to 11,145 in 2018, and 12,372 in 2019.

Residents, though, are understandably most concerned about their personal safety and severe crime, and less so by the crime rate, the measure chosen by the article.

Macleans Magazine recently ranked Victoria the 59th best community in Canada, largely due to high rankings on serious crime. Based on Statistics Canada data, the five-year average of the crime severity index puts Victoria-Esquimalt at 122nd in the country.

Crime rates for the province itself do nothing to soothe the perception of an increase in crime locally.

The provincial report Crime Statistics in British Columbia (2019) tells a more complete story, even though there are limitations to statistics since reporting rules changed the last couple of years.

In 2019, B.C.’s crime rate increased 17.3 per cent to 87.1 offences per 1,000 population. B.C.’s overall crime severity index and B.C.’s violent crime severity index are on an upward trajectory. There were 20,738 more violent offences reported by police in B.C. in 2019, with the largest increases in physical assaults, uttering threats, indecent or harassing phone calls, and sexual assaults.

In recent years, clearance rates – the number of crimes solved – have been dropping significantly. When less than half of violent crime is not solved, it’s a major issue.

All these measures of crime exclude the awful pandemic year of 2020. It’s been a time of unprecedented social upheaval, the lawless homeless camps in parks, the partial emptying and reduction of cells in provincial and federal jails to allow for COVID safety protocols, and the reluctance of courts to lock anyone up.

There have been a number of horrific high-profile crimes and violent random crimes impacting perceptions. As is often the case, much of the crime locally is driven by mental health issues and an opiate crisis and the result of inadequate support services.

When there’s a fractured governance system – five different police departments across the region – the failure of everyone to work on a common issue of crime concentrated in the downtown core area has consequences.

Residents may very well be accurate in perceiving a worrisome increase in crime.

Stan Bartlett

Victoria