Terrace’s Crime Severity Index spiked 25 per cent last year but officials urge caution when interpreting the data. The annual figures released by Statistics Canada put Terrace crime in ninth place on a list of 175 B.C. municipalities. Last year’s figure of 166.91 is in contrast to the four years prior when the number fluctuated between 131 and 142.
By comparison Terrace’s CSI is roughly double the B.C average of 87.67. Quesnel holds the highest CSI at 291.83.
“In smaller communities it doesn’t take much to create elevations in the Crime Severity Index year to year,” said Terrace RCMP Inspector Jayson Lucash in an email to the Terrace Standard. “In Terrace for example, one violent death is much more impactful to the CSI than it would be in a bigger city centre with a much higher population. One death per capita in a town of 10,000 would be the same as 10 deaths in a city of 100,000.”
Rather than only recording the number of crimes in a given Canadian city, Statistics Canada’s CSIs account for both the severity and volume of crimes in order to create the index. A weight — based on sentences handed down across Canada in the last five years — is applied to reported crimes. For example, a single first-degree murder charge may carry more weight than a series of property thefts. In this way, Statistics Canada can track trends in serious crimes around the country.
But that approach has been controversial in small municipalities like Terrace, where one attempted murder file and one homicide file last year sent the violent crime index soaring 50 per cent to 220.90, greatly influencing the overall index.
“You could see how the 2018 second-degree murder file on Scott Avenue can contribute to an increase over 2017, which was murder free in Terrace,” says Lucash.
However he concedes the CSI does offer good insight into actual call volume and the seriousness of the crimes police respond to.
“Most calls require police presence and investigation, even if they’re the result of one crime, which ties up officers and prevents them from being able to do proactive work. Presence can help deter crime and provide a sense of protection and security in the community.”
In terms of actual numbers, criminal code violations in Terrace totalled 2,906 in 2018, up by 93 the previous year. Violent criminal code violations rose eight per cent to 411 incidents.
There were 22 sexual assaults (all lesser Level 1) reported in 2018, up 68 per cent from 2017.
Level 1 assaults dropped 13 per cent for a total of 187, while Level 2 assaults involving a weapon or bodily harm jumped 60 per cent to 50 cases. Aggravated assault dropped from 5 incidents to 3.
There were 15 reported incidents involving sexual violations against children.
For non-violent crime, the CSI saw a less dramatic rise of roughly 14 per cent to 147.10. Lucash notes the number so far in 2019 has continued to climb 18 per cent over the same period last year.
For 2018 property crimes overall saw slight increases across the board, with the exception of mischief, which dropped three per cent to 399 incidents. Otherwise the total number of property crime violations rose by 5.7 per cent to 860 incidents. Breaking and enter rose 11 per cent to 55, and counts of possession of stolen property went from four to seven incidents. Theft under $5,000 rose 8.5 per cent to 299 incidents resulting in charges laid against 27 people.
Total drug violations climbed from 60 to 70 incidents again with 27 people charged.
Acting mayor, Brian Downie, says the city and RCMP have identified four strategic priorities to tackle problem areas in Terrace’s crime rates: mental health and addictions, police and community relations; road safety; and family violence.
“If you’re able to focus on those it should have an impact on the numbers,” Downie said. “Mental health and addictions are behind much of the criminal activities that affect policing. If we can be more people into play to deal with mental health and addictions, it will free up police for other priorities.”
Last month city’s mayor and chief administrative officer announced plans to travel to Victoria this fall to demand action for mental health and addictions treatment, which many residents attending a special public meeting July 17 decried as the cause of rising crime rates, and a general sense of unease in Terrace.
Downie said it’s important the city brings together all partners —police, public health and government — tackle the root causes of increased offenses like assault and property crime.
“One thing we’ve done is added a seasonal bylaw officer to the downtown area. The intent is to take some of the bylaw offences off the hands of the RCMP.”
A crime reduction unit was also reestablished to increase interaction and trust between the public and police.
Earlier this month the detachment released a series of press releases detailing how residents can decrease the chances of being the victim of property crime. The City of Terrace has also gone to the province requesting three more police officers.
“The harder we collectively make it for criminals to do their business here, the more likely it is that they’ll look elsewhere, which is why locking stuff up is so important,” says Lucash. “Unlocked bikes are a great example of making it easy for criminals to do business. Not only is the bike something easy to steal, but it can also be used as a tool in other crimes, such as drug dealing and break and enters.”
– With files from Brittany Gervais