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Break-ins to vehicles, businesses continue to plummet in Vancouver

Theft from automobiles dropped from 16,488 reports in 2019 to 7,038 last year.
New Vancouver police department data shows break-ins to vehicles have plummeted over the past four years. File photo Mike Howell

Property crime in Vancouver continues to plummet, with break-ins to vehicles and businesses driving the decrease, according to new statistics posted on the Vancouver Police Department’s website.

Statistics analyzed by Glacier Media show the total number of break-ins to vehicles dropped significantly from 16,488 in 2019 to 7,038 in 2022, while business burglaries decreased from 2,446 to 1,961 over the same four-year period.

Similar trends occurred with break-ins to homes, with 1,392 recorded in 2019 and 744 last year.

Police have previously pointed out in reports and interviews that the pandemic has been a major factor in the decrease in property crime, with more people at home during the day and fewer people commuting by car to their jobs.

At the same time, police saw an increase in break-ins to businesses in 2020 — 2,790 compared to 2,446 in 2019 — that they attributed to public health-imposed shutdowns of businesses, leaving them vacant and exposed to criminals.

A year later, the number of business burglaries dropped by 700.

With health restrictions now lifted, and more people returning to work, police have predicted property crime will begin to increase, although at a gradual rate, according to studies done by various academics around the world.

Simon Demers, director of the VPD’s planning, research and audit section, told the Vancouver Police Board in October 2022 that research in the United States, England and Wales, Northern Ireland, Australia and China points to the return in crime levels.

A study by data scientists at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom examined crime trends during and after lockdown in England and Wales. Their study was released in March 2021.

“We found that 12 out of 14 offence categories experienced significant declines upon the introduction of lockdown guidelines, followed by a resurgence as restrictions were relaxed,” said the study conducted by Samuel Langton, Anthony Dixon and Graham Farrell.

“That said, the severity of this ‘bounce back’ varied between crime types. Evidence suggests that residential crimes, in particular, may not return to normality for some time, if at all. Other common crimes, such as robbery and violence [including sexual offences] experienced a rapid return to normality.”

Abandoned phone calls

Demers pointed out in his report to the police board that abandoned calls from citizens reporting a burglary or other non-emergency crime should also be factored in crime statistics.

As Glacier Media reported in September 2022, more than 88,000 calls from citizens to the non-emergency line in 2021 were abandoned — often after lengthy delays — before they could be answered by the dispatch service contracted to take the calls.

A police staff report said the lost calls to the region’s E-Comm dispatch centre translated to an average of 240 per day.

“These abandoned calls likely included several crime reports that have remained unreported and undocumented in the police data,” the report said.

“Even worse, there is evidence that some crime victims in Vancouver do not even try to call the non-emergency line in the first place because they know it is plagued by long delays and they are not willing to wait for several minutes before talking with an E-Comm call taker.”

Assaults, robberies increase

Violent crime, meanwhile, continues on an upward trend, with assaults increasing from 4,523 in 2019 to 4,789 last year. Attempted murder cases have returned to 2019 levels, with 20 recorded in 2022 compared to 10 in 2020 and 10 in 2021.

Robberies have gone up from 626 in 2019 to 673 in 2022.

The two policing districts that include the West End, downtown business area, Granville Street entertainment strip, the Downtown Eastside and the area that runs east to the Pacific National Exhibition grounds saw the majority of the assaults — 3,483 — in 2022.

The same area saw the majority of robberies.

Vancouver police data released last year showed violent crime was at the highest it's been since 2013.

'Stranger assaults'

The new police data does not separate so-called “stranger assaults,” a term used frequently by the VPD’s media relations team over the past couple of years to describe a spate of unprovoked attacks on people in the city, which at one point averaged four per day.

Ken Sim, who was elected mayor in October 2022, cited stranger assaults in his campaign as part of the reason his ABC Vancouver party promised to hire 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses over the next four years.

Deputy Chief Steve Rai told the police board Jan. 19 that a recruitment plan is in place to hire the new officers, which will likely be a mix of new recruits and veteran cops transferring from other police departments.

The board heard from Sim at the meeting that Rai, deputy chiefs Fiona Wilson and Howard Chow, along with Chief Adam Palmer, have all had their contracts extended, with Palmer to be on the job until September 2025.

Police statistics do not factor in increases or decreases to Vancouver’s population, which continues to grow.

Vancouver increased its population from 2016 by 30,762 people for a total of 662,248 in 2021, according to a city staff memo last year to Vancouver council.

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