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Why crime severity score is Victoria 148, Oak Bay 29. Hint: partying

Victoria police chief says workload is not being shared fairly. Regional force makes sense, says criminology professor.
2021 crime severity index for a sampling of locations around B.C. Source: Statistics Canada

Something has got to give.

That was Victoria Police Chief Del Manak’s reaction to data released Tuesday by Statistics Canada showing the volume and severity of police-reported crime in Victoria in 2021 was once again well above the provincial average and that of Vancouver.

“The numbers don’t lie,” said Manak, noting the annual crime severity index paints a picture of a small municipal police force being strained by its circumstances.

The index, which measures the volume and severity of police-reported crime last year, noted Victoria’s index was 148, a slight improvement from 2020’s 168, but still well above the provincial index of 93 and Vancouver’s 90.

The index also shows that combined, all of the region’s municipalities have an index of 71.5, which Manak said illustrates the concentration of activity in Victoria.

Manak said it also underscores the need for more resources and a regional approach to policing.

“The disparity in the crime severity index and the fact that the city of Victoria continues to face the highest crime severity index of any community in B.C. with a municipal force, goes to show that a small police agency of our size can’t continue in the way that it is without having a regional approach and a regional lens,” he said.

“Imagine if, as a region, we had the resources to scale up and scale down, instead of the huge urban area that the Victoria police have to deal with — the protests, the capital city issues, the social disorder, the temporary and supportive housing units, all of the disorder that we see, the drug addiction, the treatment facilities, the majority of the liquor seats — they are all located in the city of Victoria.

“The numbers paint a kind of a stark picture of the makeup of the region and what the Victoria police officers are having to deal with on a daily basis.”

Manak said his team of 249 officers have been stretched thin for years as it faces the burden of policing the region’s night-time playground not to mention having to deal with the fallout from the bulk of the social housing, supports and services for marginalized citizens all being located in Victoria.

The data released Tuesday showed the violent crime index increased 21 per cent between 2020 and 2021, while non-violent crime in the City of Victoria dropped by 20 per cent.

Rob Gordon, criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said the numbers do not paint a promising picture for the City of Victoria, but he said it may not be a case of the sky falling.

He said the index was designed to try to provide a more meaningful interpretation of broad statistics and because it weighs the severity of crimes reported it was supposed to prevent people from drawing the wrong conclusions about crime rates on the basis of an increase number of the number of bicycles being stolen.

But he also noted that as a starting point, Victoria’s index is troubling.

“At first blush, it looked awful,” he said. “I mean, why is Victoria like this? Is there something about Victoria that makes it stand out from, for example, Vancouver?”

Gordon said Victoria and Metro Vancouver suffer from the same problem of being the entertainment centres and magnets for the broader region, but he noted Vancouver has at least five magnetic centres that draw people looking to party while Victoria really has just the one.

“Victoria is the municipal area that attracts all and sundry from the Peninsula and the whole of the capital region, therefore everyone comes into town to party and when they party, they party hard and that leads to an increase in numbers of more severe crimes,” he said.

Gordon said a regional force would make sense, but he’s not holding his breath.

“That’s been on the cards for a long time, the same as Metro Vancouver,” he said.

Manak said he has the same reaction to the index every year — that the numbers are simply not acceptable and it really shows the Victoria Police Department is shouldering more than its share of the burden.

He said in order for the community to prioritize public safety there have to be changes.

“We really need to reimagine policing and really look at how do we look after community safety and well-being,” he said, noting when other supports like social services fall away the police are often left to solve the problems. “The police are the sole organization that’s left picking up the pieces for everyone.”

He holds out hope that reform could be coming this fall for the Police Act, which could include direction on regionalization.

“If there’s any region that could benefit from amalgamation or a regional police force, it would be the Capital Regional District, given that we have the makeup of so many smaller agencies and the Victoria Police Department is carrying the lion’s share of the workload,” he said.

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