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Fort St. James ranked No.1 among B.C. Municipalities on crime severity index

RCMP detachment commander explains trends and assures public safety
Fort St. James is a former fur trading post in north-central British Columbia. It is also the gateway to a chain of rivers and lakes that traverse 400 kilometres of central British Columbia. The population of the Fort St. James area, including the municipality itself, rural areas and First Nations, is approximately 4,500 people. (File photo)

Fort St. James ranked number one among B.C. municipalities (rural) on the crime severity index (CSI) data released by Statistics Canada July 27.

The latest data (2022) shows Fort St. James with a CSI of 320.87, slightly down from the year before. Fort St. James also took top spot for non-violent crime severity index at 281.49.

To calculate indices, each type of crime is given a weight based on the severity of the crime (i.e., murder counts much higher than common assault). The number of police-reported incidents for each offence is multiplied by the weight for that offence then all weighted offences are then added together and divided by the population of the jurisdiction.

Smaller municipalities have always been skeptical of the meaningfulness of the crime severity indices noting that a single murder, for example, or a particularly troublesome hospital patient, can skew the numbers dramatically for a town of smaller populations and in any given year might not necessarily reflect the overall safety of the community.

StatCan acknowledges that taken discreetly, the numbers can be misleading, but nevertheless maintains they are useful in tracking crime trends and the relative safety of communities.

Fort St. James RCMP Detachment Commander Pat Jenkins, said the occurrence of crime and its causes is an extremely complex issue and difficult to quantify.

Fort St James has historically had a higher than average incidence of violent crime and drug and alcohol abuse and other social problems have been contributing factors.

Crime Severity Index (CSI) statistics are based on Uniform Crime Reporting(UCR) data kept by police forces and compiled by Statistics Canada. Each time there is a call for police service, a file is generated and categorized using the UCR scoring code. There is a code for virtually every call for service and codes are weighted due to their severity.

Based on the way the statistics are calculated using this UCR, one serious file can potentially skew the CSI higher in a community with a relatively small population such as Fort St James and yearly fluctuations are expected.

Explaining the high CSI markings, Jenkins said the COVID 19 pandemic was a factor and, as restrictions were relaxed, there was an expected increase.

“In 2021 and 2022, in addition to three homicides, there was also a violent prolific offender at large on bail in our community. His criminal actions accounted for a significant proportion of our serious violent crime, including a 40 per cent increase in assaults against my police officers,” he said.

With the offender now convicted and serving time in prison, Jenkins expect a downward trend for the coming year.

Jenkins said he was however encouraged that Fort St. James’ overall CSI decreased by 1.21 per cent from the previous year, which has bucked the provincial trend of a 4.27 per cent increase.

Overall, Jenkins assures the public that Fort St James continues to be a safe place to live and work.

“Violent criminal activity has been confined to a small portion of the area population with repeat offenders committing the majority of crimes with victims usually coming from that same group.

“The average citizen does not need to fear random acts of violence. There is still a sense of community among the majority and there is the consensus that one need not lock their doors at night. It’s a community I’m proud to be part of.”

B.C.’s big cities, Kelowna, Vancouver, Abbotsford-Mission and Victoria ranked second, 9th, 10th and 18th respectively among Canada’s 39 CMAs.

The Top 5 CMAs in the country were: Winnipeg, Man.; Kelowna, B.C.; Lethbridge, Alta.; Saskatoon, Sask.; and Regina, Sask.

Nearly 40 per cent of police-reported crimes in Canada are theft under $5,000 and mischief. The calculation of the severity indices gives lesser weight to these types of crimes and more to violent and serious crimes.

-With files from Thom Barker

About the Author: Binny Paul

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