Northern B.C. police saw a massive spike in the severity of calls for service last week compared to the same period last year.
Statistics for the North District (from 100 Mile House north) indicate domestic disturbance calls were up 82 per cent, general disturbance calls 83 per cent, calls about suicidal persons 75 per cent and mental health-related occurrences 350 per cent on an overall call volume that was down eight per cent.
Staff Sgt. Terry Gillespie, commander of the Smithers detachment who provided the data, said he was reluctant to draw a direct line between the numbers and the COVID-19 pandemic because he didn’t have long-term statistics.
“To really make a conclusion to whether it’s COVID-related, I would actually need more stats,” he said.
However he noted the spike is big enough and the geographic area large enough that a connection is probable.
“Right now it certainly seems like it is a trend that could likely be related, but I wouldn’t conclusively say it’s a scientific fact,” he said.
Given the vastness of the North District, the question of where these calls are originating from is top of mind for for both police and outreach workers.
In Smithers, Gillespie said he’s spoken to a crime analyst who said local trends are mirroring the North Districts.
The RCMP detachment in Houston said they have not seen a bump in domestic disturbance and self-harm calls.
Terrace RCMP are reporting a slight overall decline in calls for service from February to March, including disturbance and property crime.
At the time of this posting, detachments in Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte, Masset and Kitimat had not provided data requested by Black Press.
Regardless of specific locations, Carol Seychuk, executive director of the Northern Society for Domestic Peace said the important thing is for people to reach out for help if they are experiencing stressors.
“I really encourage families to reach out if they’re having a difficult time,” she said. “It’s understandable and if it’s getting some tools to cope with that and to be kind to one another… and if you have any concerns or you feel unsafe, reach out to the local crisis lines and shelters.”
The spike in police calls appears to be a unfortunate northern distinction. By comparison, neither Victoria nor Vancouver has reported significant increases in the kinds of calls North District RCMP are fielding in the domestic arena.
Bowen Osoko, a spokesperson for the Victoria Police department said from March 1 – 18 they had 16 domestic assaults this year versus 14 last year.
What’s changed in both Vancouver and Victoria is the number of property crime, primarily targeting businesses.
Victoria has seen an overall increase in break and enters of 118 per cent since Jan. 1.
Osoko said 30 per cent of those in Victoria were to undergrounds, construction sites, compounds, and outbuildings/sheds, but recently the trend has been toward business-related break ins.
Vancouver businesses are also being hit hard as thieves take advantage of commercial spaces that are closed due to social distancing measures. In a two-week period from March 1 to 15 there were 86 commercial break-ins reported throughout the city. In the following week alone there were 81.
In the north, property crime was also up significantly with 58 per cent hike in break and enters to businesses and a 29 per cent increase in mischief under $5,000.
“I think certainly the criminal element takes advantage of any situation that they can and certainly having less people out and about and more businesses closed I think would lead likely to higher property crime,” Gillespie said.
Meanwhile, most municipal police services and RCMP detachments have closed their front counters to the public. This impacts certain services such as fingerprinting and criminal record checks.
Terrace RCMP spokesperson, Cst. Crystal Eveleyn, said this won’t affect any detachment’s response capablities for serious crimes.
“One of the things we’ve asked the public to do is be mindful of what they’re calling in. If it’s a criminal matter, or an issue of public safety, by all means, call us, we’re here. But if it’s something minor, like a noise complaint, please consider an alternative avenue of dealing with it, such as calling a landlord. Also, consider making reports using our online reporting tool. The tool is quick and a great way to get the information you’d like to report to us.”
The Online Reporting Tool can be found at https://ocre-sielc.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/terrace/en
You can use Online Crime Reporting if:
- You have lost something that costs less than $5000
- Someone has stolen something from you that costs less than $5000
- Someone has vandalized your property or vehicle and it will cost less than $5000 to repair it
- The crime happened within the jurisdiction of the Terrace RCMP