The Victoria Police Chief says Statistics Canada numbers paint a worrying picture of growing crime in Victoria and Esquimalt.
It’s not the first time Chief Del Manak has spoken of the reported strain faced by his police force, but the chief is pointing to the annual police-reported crime severity index (CSI) numbers as backing up his claims that more police are needed in the city.
“Our communities are growing and … our police department, VicPD, is not growing at the same rate as our communities,” he told Black Press Media in a phone interview. “It’s important to note that the City of Victoria and the Township of Esquimalt are safe. They are safe communities.”
“Demands are increasing and the public’s expectations are increasing, and there’s more complexity in investigating crimes,” he added. “The steps [police] have to take in order to keep communities safe are increasing but resources aren’t keeping pace.”
In Victoria, the 2018 crime severity index is sitting at 117.06, a 5.15-point increase from the year prior. That number also puts Victoria above the provincial rate of 87.67.
In terms of the last five years, Victoria and Esquimalt’s overall and violent crime severity index spiked in 2015, and after a drop the year after, has since increased a small amount each year. VicPD’s 2018 annual report shows a jump in 911 calls and calls for service. In 2018 the police force responded to 2,691 more calls than in 2017.
Historically though, Victoria’s CSI falls far below the indexes of the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1998 Victoria had a CSI of 277.58 and didn’t dip back beneath the 200-point index until 2007 when it hit 193.10. By comparion, the provincial CSI was also higher for that time frame – peaking at 166.91 in 1998.
Rather than simply recording the number of crimes in a given Canadian city, Statistics Canada’s CSIs account for both the severity and volume of crimes in order to create an index. A weight – based on sentences handed down across Canada in the last five years is applied to reported crimes, for example a first degree murder charge may still carry more weight than a handful of property thefts. In this way, Statistics Canada can track trends in serious crimes around the country.
To Manak, the local numbers speak to a police force stretched to thin. Victoria council granted VicPD a 3.2 per cent increase this year but denied the force $987,000.
“The bulk of this can be attributed to the Victoria Police Department being a relatively small police department that is responsible for policing the region’s only downtown core,” Manak said. “Anytime you have a major urban centre and a downtown core, you are going to see more crime, higher volumes of crime and also a more severe nature of that crime.”
Manak says crime prevention takes a back seat when resources are tight.
“What ends up happening when you’re under a lot of pressure to respond to calls [is] one of the first areas that collapses is having officers and staff dedicated to preventing crime,” he said. “You need to have the boots on the ground to respond to the different crimes you have.”