On April 15, 2016, Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia announced a $23 million dollar boost to its “Guns and Gangs” strategy in response to the “frequency and public nature of recent gang shootings.”
The money is to go wherever it’s needed, but the first-named community in the government announcement and the TV reports was Surrey. Periodic violence in Surrey has overshadowed other news from B.C.’s second-largest city at least since the 2014 local election campaign. On April 18, CTV News published an interactive map showing the locations of 33 shootings that had taken place in Surrey since New Year’s Day.
It’s a fair-sized top-up for a city that spent $120 million in 2014 on all of its police operations. Most of the provincial handout is to support the addition of two new 10-person teams to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC) – B.C.’s integrated anti-gang organization
There’s no mystery in the fact that citizens are concerned, frightened, or angry about gunfire at street corners and the discovery of bodies in ditches. But the less newsworthy reality is that the violent crime across North America, and even in Surrey, has been on the decline for decades and the decline appears to be continuing.
Statistics Canada reported last year that violent crime numbers in Canada were lower in 2014 than they were in 1970. Maclean’s magazine reporter Zoe McKnight noted that the key ingredient in the official numbers is the declining rate of violent criminal activity among young men.
“Over the five-year period between 2009 and 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available, charges laid for robbery, motor vehicle theft, aggravated assault and breaking and entering among those aged 18 to 24 dropped by between 23 and 31 per cent, while the charges stemming from the most serious crime, homicide, were down 29 per cent.”
McKnight’s sources speculated that crime is dropping essentially because young men are too lazy to engage in criminal activity, and are immersed instead in video games and online chat. But the news focus on crime continues, and so does the spending by governments. It’s an area of public expenditure that’s rarely scrutinized, although the conservative Fraser Institute pointed out the rising cost of catching crooks in a 2014 report called “Police and Crime Rates in Canada.”
The B.C. government’s numbers show the number of violent incidents reported by police dropping by 20 to 40 per cent in the Lower Mainland between 2005 and 2014. This was in a period when the Fraser Valley region’s population grew by 10 per cent, and Greater Vancouver’s by 15 per cent. The definition of violent crimes includes “homicide, attempted murder, sexual and non-sexual assault, sexual offences against children, abduction, forcible confinement or kidnapping, robbery, criminal harassment, extortion, uttering threats, and threatening or harassing phone calls.”
The Surrey RCMP detachment publishes detailed numbers on local crime trends. In 2015, a year that featured some sensational crime reporting in the media, the number of homicides was 9 compared to an average of 15 per year in the previous decade. Looking at a different type of violent crime, the number of robberies in Surrey in 2015 was 660, compared with an average of 788 in the previous 10 years.
On April 18, two days after the CTV posted its map on the Surrey shooting epidemic, Mayor Linda Hepner pointed to a two per cent drop in violent crime in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015. The online police reports show number of Surrey homicides in Q1 2016 totalled 1, compared with a long running quarterly average of 3 or more.
[On July 20, 2016, Statistics Canada issued crime statistics for 2015, marking the first increase in the national crime rate and crime severity in 12 years. “The CSI grew 5% from 2014 to 2015, but was 31% lower than it was a decade earlier in 2005.” The crime severity index, a weighted formula related to the standard prison terms awarded for various offences, increased by 1% in Metro Vancouver from 2014 to 2015, but in Abbotsford-Mission (a much smaller sample) it increased by 14%.]