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Is crime up or down in Vancouver?

VPD statistics shows property crime down, but violent crime holding steady
Police Chief Adam Palmer speaks to the Vancouver Police Board meeting last Thursday as Deputy Police Chief Howard Chow and board member Frank Chong look on. Screen shot of livestream
Is crime up or down in Vancouver?

It really depends on the crime, as the Vancouver Police Department’s most recent statistics show.

It also depends on whether the statistics are compared year over year, whether people are reporting all crimes — they aren’t, according to Police Chief Adam Palmer — and how much the pandemic’s effect has had on the city’s crime rate.

For example, the number of violent crimes reported to police dropped slightly over the first nine months of this year as compared to the same period in 2020 — 4,414 incidents over 4,429.

Assaults were the most prevalent type of violent crime.

But when looking at data back to 2012, the number of reported violent crimes over the first nine months of that year was 5,048. It then dropped to 3,930 in 2016 before gradually increasing each year after that to this point in 2021.

With that increase has come a type of assault that has reached a level that Palmer has not seen in his career — random assaults on people minding their own business while out and about in the city.

Police have tracked 1,700 incidents, or roughly four per day, between Sept. 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2021. Of those, 47 per cent involved a knife or some type of weapon, said the chief in an update to the Vancouver Police Board last Thursday.

“I’ve been a police officer in this city for 34 years and I’ve never heard of such a thing before,” he said, adding that 28 per cent of the suspects arrested were living with some form of mental illness.

Also of concern, he continued, was the increase in shoplifters resorting to violence when approached by staff, customers or police. The number of such incidents, as of last Thursday, was 844 — a 43 per cent increase over last year.

At the same time, overall property crime is at its lowest in a decade, with a large percentage of that decrease attributed to the big drop in people breaking into vehicles.

The chief acknowledged the drop in property crime, but described vehicle break-ins as “the lowest level of crime that we have in the city.”

“The more serious crimes are of concern for us, and we also know from talking to the business community on a regular basis that many things are just going unreported,” said Palmer, who didn’t specify which “things” but Twitter has recently been filled with reports and photographs of broken windows in the West End and Gastown.

Citizens are also not reporting what they might consider petty or minor crimes. The reasons have included delays when calling police, police saying they’re unable to attend and having citizens report an incident on-line.

“When they do call us, and we do investigate a crime, they say this has happened four times before and I’ve never called you, but this time was serious enough that I did call you,” the chief said.

The statistics in the report that went before the police board tracked crime overall in the city.

So a person living in West Point Grey, for example, might have a different perception of crime in their neighbourhood (five assaults reported in September) than a resident of Grandview-Woodland (24 assaults). Same for break-ins in September — three in West Point Grey, 17 in Grandview-Woodland.

Other statistics reported to the police board for the first nine months of the year included:

• Calls for service dropped by 5.5 per cent, from 184,077 last year to 174,035 this year. The number of calls since 2012, however, has increased by 9.4 per cent.

• The average response time to an emergency call this year was 12 seconds faster this year than for the nine-month period in 2020.

• ICBC-reported data on traffic injuries and deaths shows 4,584 incidents last year compared to 4,968 this year. Of those, there were six vehicle fatalities last year and 13 this year.

• The number of times police had to apprehend a person under the Mental Health Act was 2,087 this year, three more times than 2020. Such apprehensions have consistently reached more than 2,000 since 2013 over the first nine months of each year.

The statistics went before the police board as the city’s finance team is preparing a draft report on the city’s overall budget for 2022. It will go before council in December for a vote. Simultaneously, the VPD is working on a draft budget that will first need board approval before going before council.

Currently, the VPD is on track to run a deficit of more than $7 million this year — the first time in 16 years that the department is projecting a deficit.

Several reports from the VPD to the board over the last year have pointed to city council’s decision in December 2020 to not fully fund its budget this year as reason for the over-runs.

The majority of council voted to approve a 2021 police budget of $316 million, about $766,000 more than the 2020 budget but $5.6 million less than the VPD requested to operate the department this year. The vote was made in year with calls from the public, including some councillors, to "defund the police" and divert some of its funding to programs and experts tied to mental health services.

Earlier this year, the police board appealed council’s decision to Wayne Rideout, B.C.’s director of police services, who has yet to make a ruling on whether the VPD’s request was warranted.

Other financial pressures facing the VPD include a record number of protests this year — an estimate of 840 by year’s end, with many related to the pandemic and the environment, including ongoing demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion.

The chief told the board he estimates managing protests will have cost the department $3.2 million when 2021 comes to a close.

Vancouver police budget statistics supplied to Glacier Media show a steady increase in recent years on money spent to manage protests and demonstrations, with $478,460 in 2018, $1,033,297 in 2019 and $2,835,584 last year.

The chief also said the department has lost about 20 officers to the new Surrey police department and anticipates a higher than usual number of retirements next year because of changes related to pensions.