The City of Victoria has seen a notable uptick in crime over the last year, according to data released by Statistics Canada.
The crime severity index (CSI), which measures the volume and severity of police-reported crime, showed Victoria well ahead of any city policed by a municipal department, including Vancouver.
Victoria scored a 168, compared to Vancouver’s 105 and the B.C. average of 96.
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“It’s an incredibly high figure,” Victoria police spokesperson Const. Cam MacIntyre said.
“When we look at this figure for an extremely high severity of crime, we really think about the strain and ability of our officers to contribute to community safety.”
While Victoria’s CSI was high, several small communities came in much higher. Hope came in at 226, Prince George at 223 and Tofino at 196.
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2020 was the first year Statistics Canada separated Victoria from Esquimalt — both communities are policed by VicPD — in calculating the CSI.
The latter community’s score, at 39, spoke to the challenges police in Victoria’s downtown are facing, MacIntyre said.
“When we look at homelessness, I can tell you the issues around multi-unit temporary housing facilities, sheltering in parks as well as shelters in general, for the six months that we tracked it, those were well over 50 per cent of our priority one and priority two calls,” he said.
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“When we’re talking about crime severity we’re talking about priority one and priority two calls.”
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The intersection of homelessness and policing has been a flashpoint in Victoria in recent years.
There have been multiple high-profile assaults and deaths in some of the city’s homeless encampments, and for a time the city was funding additional police officers to patrol the sites with its bylaw officers, citing safety concerns.
Grant Mackenzie, spokesperson for Victoria social service non-profit Our Place, said the crime statistics may not tell the whole story.
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“It isn’t broken down to what they mean by violent incidents. Is somebody pushing someone rated the same way as someone shooting somebody?” he asked.
The fact that the police are being called frequently also doesn’t necessarily mean there has been more crime, he argued.
“There are a lot of instances where you have to call 911 because there is no alternative. And I think that can skew the statistics as well,” Mackenzie said.
“A lot of time, working with the homeless, we call 911 because we are not equipped to deal with people having a crisis.”
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Mackenzie is among those advocating for alternatives to the use of police in mental health or drug-related incidents.
Victoria city council voted last year to explore such an initiative, citing a program in Eugene, Oregon, that deploys crisis intervention services through the traditional 911 dispatch centre.
Victoria police, who have been pushing the city for more officers for years, however, argue the stats show the need for more resources on the ground.
MacIntyre said the department is also supportive of amalgamating police agencies across the capital regional district, to better distribute the resource pressures faced by police in the city core.
While Victoria’s CSI figure was 168, the index for the entire Victoria census metropolitan area was just 75.8.
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