Editorial: Why is our regional crime rate so high?

The Victoria Police Department has announced a new project titled #WarrantWednesday.

The idea is to devote Wednesdays to tracking down criminals with outstanding arrest warrants. It arose after staff did a file review and realized the number of outstanding arrest warrants had reached a level that demanded attention.

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Before we get to the meat of the matter, two questions arise.

First, why warn crooks in advance that you’re coming after them on a given day? Wouldn’t that give them a heads-up to lie low for the day or get out of town?

VicPD considered this risk, but felt that people with arrest warrants already know they’re being sought after. No great harm is done by drawing attention to an upcoming blitz.

That sounds a little thin. Certainly criminals with outstanding arrest warrants realize they can be snatched up at any moment. But why telegraph your intentions?

A better answer is that of the 23 arrests made on the first #WarrantWednesday, several came about because of tips from the public. In one instance, a murderer with Canada-wide warrants was apprehended in this way.

By publicizing the program, staff hope to generate more leads of this kind. Fair enough.

The second question is how we got to the point where, as VicPD state in their media release: “On any given day there are potentially dozens in our community wanted on active arrest warrants.”

Why did such a state of affairs come about?

And here the real issue arises. For all their hard work and dedication, police forces across the province have varied success in catching bad guys.

In 2019, the clearance rate for violent crimes provincewide was 43.9 per cent, a drop of 19 per cent from the year before and well below the national clearance rate of 60.9 per cent. That in itself goes some way to explaining why dozens of crooks roam our community despite outstanding arrest warrants.

Property crimes in B.C. are solved at even lower rates — 13 per cent, and even that figure is misleading, since many victims of these offences don’t bother reporting them. The figures for Victoria generally match the provincial numbers.

If you’re planning a crime in our corner of the world, the likelihood of getting away with it must seem pretty attractive.

Looking at the severity of crimes, the same troubling picture emerges. The severity of crimes in B.C. far exceeds the national total. Our severity index stands at 104.4; Canada’s is 79.5.

Not only do we lag the country in successful pursuit of criminals, but those who live here are more violent and less likely to be tracked down.

It is difficult to explain B.C.’s relatively poor performance in terms of resources applied. On a per capita basis, we employ roughly the same number of police officers as the national average.

The existence of multiple law enforcement agencies in Greater Victoria and the Lower Mainland is likely a factor.

It’s well known that serial killer Robert Pickton, who was charged with murdering 26 women, many from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, eluded capture for years because the various law-enforcement agencies involved did not share information.

The fact that Greater Victoria has six separate police departments (including two RCMP detachments), while many cities with larger populations are served by just one, may explain how so many known crooks with arrest warrants escape apprehension.

But don’t look to the provincial government for help. In July 2019, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth explicitly rejected a unanimous request by Victoria city council to establish a regional police force.

Averting his eyes, Farnworth replied: “Any change to policing and law enforcement in the capital region is a decision for the municipalities involved and their elected officials.” Or in other words, not my problem.

That, too, is why numerous crooks with outstanding warrants wander our streets. Petty politics trump effective policing every time.

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