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Total crimes in Vancouver down by 10,500 since 2019

Car break-ins less than half what they were five years ago.
The number of break-ins to vehicles in Vancouver since 2019 has plummeted and is largely the reason total crimes reported to police over the past five years have decreased. Photo Mike Howell

The total number of crimes reported to Vancouver police decreased from 56,807 in 2019 to 46,259 in 2023, according to new data posted on the department’s website.

That’s a decrease of 10,548 in a five-year span.

It's a trend that began in 2020 with 46,608 crimes reported, before dropping to 40,398 in 2021 and then climbing back up to 42,692 in 2022.

The biggest drop in that span was in break-ins to vehicles, with 7,171 recorded last year compared to 16,488 in 2019 — a downward trend police have attributed in previous reports and interviews to the pandemic’s effect on the type of crime.

Fewer people driving to work at the height of the pandemic was cited as a reason, along with fewer businesses being open and others operating on reduced hours. Schools and universities also operated online.

In recent years, many businesses have reopened and people have returned to work and in-class sessions. Traffic congestion is a reality again, public places are noticeably busier and Vancouver’s night life appears to have rebounded.

At the same time, break-ins to vehicles have remained steady but far below the trend before the pandemic, with 9,884 recorded in 2020, 7,145 in 2021, 7,038 in 2022 and the 7,171 last year.

'Pay out-of-pocket'

Sgt. Steve Addison, a VPD media relations officer, acknowledged in an email Monday the significant drop in car break-ins but said the type of crime may be among those that citizens continue to “under-report.”

The department has repeatedly criticized E-Comm for not having the capacity to handle all the VPD’s non-emergency calls. Police data shows there were 20,410 abandoned calls recorded in the first half of 2023.

The total number of calls residents abandoned in 2022 after calling the VPD’s non-emergency line reached 91,193, which was a 10-year high for the department.

“People may be choosing to pay out-of-pocket to replace stolen items rather than reporting to police, especially if the items stolen are of nominal value — like coins, cellphone chargers and sunglasses,” Addison said.

Sgt. Steve Addison, a VPD media relations officer. Photo Mike Howell

It’s also likely, he continued, that more cases are being classified by officers as a “mischief” file. For example, if a car window is broken and a person gains entry, but nothing is stolen, police would classify that as mischief, not theft.

“Such was the case earlier this month, when approximately 100 car windows were damaged in a single night when someone went on a crime spree in Marpole and Fairview,” Addison said. “Because the person who smashed the windows did not steal anything, each case is classified as a mischief.”

Abandoned non-emergency calls

In a presentation to the police board almost two years ago, Simon Demers, the VPD’s director of planning, research and audit section, said the department’s analysis of 88,000 abandoned calls in 2021 suggested there would have been an additional 1,700 reports of break-ins to homes and businesses.

Added to those crime reports would have been 1,000 thefts, 600 assaults, 500 calls related to mischief and 200 for fraud, said Demers, whose report focused on the “crime severity index” in Vancouver, which remains higher than the national average.

Historically, the downtown central business district has been hit hardest by break-ins to vehicles, with 6,221 in 2019. Last year, the district saw 2,491, which is still the most in the city, far ahead of the West End (549), Kensington-Cedar Cottage (409), Strathcona (396) and Renfrew-Collingwood (334).

Other significant decreases in crime in the past five years were in break-ins to businesses and residences. In 2019, 2,446 break-ins were reported to police compared to 1,820 in 2023. Break-ins to homes saw a bigger decrease, dropping from 1,392 in 2019 to 758 last year.

Auto thefts have also decreased, with 1,392 recorded in 2019 compared to 782 last year.

Robberies have not fluctuated much in five years, with the statistics showing 626 in 2019 and 614 in 2023; the low point for robberies in that span was in 2021, with 569 reported to police.

Police arrested a man in March 2023 in the parking lot of Science World after receiving a report of a man being robbed at knifepoint of his electric scooter. Photo Mike Howell

Violent crimes up

The same trend has continued for “other Criminal Code” statistics, which Addison explained captures reports that don’t fit into other categories, and are not necessarily related to a crime.

Examples of such files from Monday included traffic stops, a check on the well-being of a person who had fallen down, smoke coming from a broken-down car and an obstruction on a roadway.

In 2019, that category showed 5,593 files compared to 5,483 in 2023.

What has increased over the past five years are violent crimes, with 6,256 recorded in 2023. That’s an increase of 451 over 2019 and can be largely attributed to assaults, with 4,910 recorded in 2023.

At the same time, police revealed in a report to the police board in November 2023 that a random sample of assault data from 2021, 2022 and 2023 “suggests a steady decline in unprovoked stranger assaults.”

Vancouver recorded 78 homicides over the past five years, including 15 in 2023.

Police investigated 10 attempted murder files and saw an increase in sex offences, with 707 compared to 623 in 2019; the VPD has always qualified sex offence stats by saying a report doesn’t necessarily mean the offence occurred in the same year.

Frauds, arsons, mischief increase

The number of fraud files (3,582 in 2023), arsons (345) and mischief cases (5,952) were also up over 2019 statistics. Frauds jumped from 2,924 in 2019 to 3,582 in 2023 and mischief files — which includes graffiti, vandalism and the example Addison provided of smashed car windows — went from 5,068 in 2019 to 5,952.

In the theft category, which captures shoplifting and stolen property such as a bicycle, police filed 12,560 reports in 2023. Although still below 2019 levels at 13,113, thefts have steadily increased from a low of 9,097 in 2021.

The statistics also show police continue to seized hundreds of weapons each year, with a five-year average of 797 per year.

Not captured in the updated data on the website are other categories such as hate crimes, which police shared at a Jan. 16 news conference.

Last year, police investigated 265 hate crime reports across all communities, a 31 per cent increase from 2022. Police also saw an increase in reports from the South Asian and 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

The Jewish community alone reported 47 incidents to police, an increase of 18 over 2022.

A total of 79 people died in fatal car accidents, between 2019 and 2023.

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