Perception vs. Reality of high-risk offenders in Greater Victoria

Nearly 50 high-risk offenders live in Greater Victoria; and despite community concerns, few commit new crimes.

Public notifications for two sex offenders living in Victoria are creating widespread fear and scant meaningful information, says a local criminal justice expert.

Last month, two paroled sex offenders – James Campbell, 63, and Larry Takahashi, 61 – moved to Victoria halfway houses, prompting public warnings from the Victoria Police Department.

Takahashi is on a temporary release and must return to prison Dec. 24, while Campbell received an automatic release after having served two-thirds of his sentence.

“Public notifications do create generalized fear,” said Blair Fisher, a criminal justice instructor at Camoson College. That fear often leads to false sightings and can strain police and parole office resources, Fisher said.

In the past several weeks, VicPD has received hundreds of calls about both men but neither have been caught violating their conditions nor committing crimes.

“In the case of Mr. Takahashi, even though he’s got a temporary unescorted absence, all that means is he doesn’t have a specific escort tied to his hip,” said Patrick Storey, Parole Board of Canada spokesman. “He doesn’t have overnight leave, and he’s surrounded with watchful eyes.”

A high-risk offender is defined as any person who reasonably poses a significant risk of harm to a public individual or group. From a police perspective, false sightings are a small price to pay to mitigate potential risk to the public.

“We have a duty to inform when there is someone we feel is dangerous in our midst,” said Bowen Osoko, VicPD spokesman. “Those who live here are our eyes and ears.”

At any given time, there are roughly 50 high risk offenders and another 250 convicted offenders living in Greater Victoria, according to VicPD numbers.

Only some of those men – including Takahashi and Campbell – end up at one of Victoria’s three halfway houses, where they face much more restrictive conditions.

“We see these guys up to six times a day, so we can tell when they’re acting strange or smell a whiff of alcohol,” said Dave Johnson, executive director of the John Howard Society of Greater Victoria, which runs a 15-bed halfway house.

Before arriving in Victoria, parolees are assessed by Corrections Canada, the parole board and then screened by a local committee comprised of one VicPD detective, local halfway house directors and parole officers.

VicPD can offer opinion on high-risk offenders moving to the community, but it has no authority to reject candidates.

“You don’t often see this discrepancy between the criminal justice system saying, ‘We think he’s an acceptable risk’ and the police saying, ‘No we don’t.’ Mr. Takahashi is a unique case in that regard,” Fisher said.

But there are sometimes tragic outcomes.

Roger Badour, a 63-year-old sex offender serving conditional release in Victoria, skipped town in 2011 and murdered a Princeton woman.

But the vast majority of parolees serve their time and overcome reintegration into the community, Johnson said.

Recidivism rates amongst parolees over the age of 50 are lower than their younger counterparts (Senior parolees have a seven to 12 per cent likelihood of re-offending after release, according to parole board numbers).

“Halfway houses have a great record of success, and I’d rather have them going there then seeing them released to the street with no or minimal support,” Johnson said.

“The bulk of the guys that are in prison will eventually come out, so let’s make sure we give them the transitional support they need to keep the community safe.”

Takahashi and Campbell face strict parole conditions which can be found at vicpd.ca. If you see them violating these conditions, call police immediately.