The crime rate in Victoria continues to rise, but the city’s top cop maintains the community is still a safe place to live.
According to acting police chief Del Manak, the crime rate in VicPD’s jurisdiction rose 10.5 per cent in 2014 and 8.8 per cent in 2015.
Compared with other municipal police departments in the province, Victoria’s crime rate is 54 per cent higher than the B.C. average, and the case load (number of files per officer) is 10.4 per cent higher than the average B.C. municipal police jurisdiction.
Between 2011 and 2014, however, crime rates went down, but began to creep back up as 2014 progressed. The calls for service in Victoria that year were also similar to 2015 and 2016, which reached more than 50,000 calls.
“To me, it’s an important indicator of how busy the police department is, how responsive we are,” said Manak, noting many of the calls police respond to are not criminal in nature, but to maintain social order.
“We want to be responsive, we want to make sure we’re not just going when you’re the victim of a crime.”
The city’s crime rate is calculated by a count of all crime incidents reported to and by police, then divided by the population of the area they occur. Each crime incident, regardless of the seriousness, counts the same in the rate.
As for the factors contributing to the rise, Manak said a lot has to do with Victoria’s downtown being an attraction for tourists, protestors, locals, and a number of celebrations throughout the year. With that comes social issues often fueled by alcohol.
The city also has one of the highest percentages of halfway houses in the country. The Salvation Army CRF (community residential facility) in downtown Victoria houses 47 offenders who are on parole and in need of help to successfully integrate back into the community after several years behind bars. The facility is the largest halfway house in Canada and one of three in Victoria.
“You have some very violent people who have to integrate back into the community, but they’re doing it in the City of Victoria so it regularly is a challenge for us in how we manage them,” said Manak, who’d like to see a regional approach from a policing perspective that manages the prolific offenders and their release back into the community.
“They try hard, sometimes the supports aren’t enough for them and they are breaking the law and it is affecting our crime rate because of the high concentration.”
Every 28 days, the VicPD strategic operations council identifies at least one priority area within Esquimalt and Victoria. The priority areas are selected based on the analysis of crime and disorder trends, along with intelligence officers receive from the community.
A recent quarterly police report shows there was a 33.7 per cent change in calls for service when police made the area of Head/Wollaston in Esquimalt a priority in November. In Victoria, officers have been spending extra time in the Rock Bay area, which has seen an increase in calls ever since tent city was dismantled in the summer.
The top five people that generated the most calls between October and December were also identified and assisted with accessing mental health care, addiction counselling and housing services through the Victoria Integrated Court. Almost every person has since been removed from the list due to a reduction in the calls they generated.