The Town of Smithers saw significant decreases in its crime severity index (CSI), violent crime severity index (VCSI) and non-violent crime severity index (NVCSI) in 2021.
Data released by Statistics Canada (StatCan) July 25 indicate the CSI for 2021 was 157.55 compared to 193.26 in 2020, an 18.48 per cent decline.
Similarly, the VCSI was down 15.82 per cent from 216.57 to 182.31 and the NVCSI decreased 19.60 per cent from 184.42 to 148.27.
Along with the numbers being down for Smithers, the town’s relative position among B.C. municipalities was also down in all categories.
Of the 181 police jurisdictions in British Columbia for which 2021 police-reported statistics are now available, Smithers ranked 23rd in CSI, 30th in VCSI and 22nd in NVCSI, down from 16th, 22nd and 11th respectively.
New Hazelton ranked 18th with a CSI of 173.76 and Smithers rural — which includes Telkwa and Witset — ranked 92nd at 79.38.
The Smithers municipal numbers mark the first time in the last four years the trend has been downward. From 2018 to 2020, Smithers saw steadily increasing indices across the board. Prior to 2018 the trend had been a downward one.
Mayor Gladys Atrill said it is nice to see a downward trend.
“While these statistics can be a little baffling sometimes as we are looking into the past, I am glad to see the statistics are showing the crime severity index dropping, particularly the violent crime severity index,” she said.
Atrill noted the town council works closely with the police to stay informed about what is going on and to communicate community concerns to the RCMP. A recent rash of criminal activity in the downtown core was the subject of a recent meeting.
“I, along with other members of Town Council met last week with representatives of the downtown merchants and the RCMP regarding recent incidents of concern,” Atrill said. “RCMP are increasing their presence in town and I believe it is a good thing for people to see the police downtown, on foot or on bike patrols.”
Smithers RCMP Cpl. Elizabeth Irvine said police have noticed a rise in stealing from stores, violent confrontations between shoplifters and merchants, and property theft and damage in the last several months.
For the province as a whole, the CSI was down by 4.61 per cent and the NVCSI decreased 7.55 per cent, The VCSI, however, jumped 4.32.
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 only 5,300 people 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.
“The Crime Severity Index is also a tool for measuring the increase or decrease in the severity of crime over time in any given jurisdiction, such as provinces and territories, and for comparing the seriousness of crime among jurisdictions,” an article on the StatCan website states.
“Over time, police-reported crime rates have generally been higher in the west and north than in eastern and central regions of the country. This is also true for crime severity, as measured by the new Crime Severity Index.”
While a decline in the indices is always welcomed by Town officials, Smithers continues to run significantly above the provincial average.
Comparing Smithers to national and provincial data for the period 2017-2021, the town’s five-year average CSI of 152.17 is more than double the Canadian average of 75.3 and more than 60 per cent higher than B.C.’s 94.09 average for the same period.
The Smithers average is also very significantly higher than Lethbridge, Alta.’s 2021 CSI of 128.65. Last year, Lethbridge once again ranked as Canada’s most dangerous census metropolitan area (CMA), or city with more than 100,000 population.
Fort St. James (rural) ranked number one among municipalities in the province in 2021 with a CSI of 293.52, up 3.2 per cent from the year before.
Fort St. James also took top spot for NVCSI at 281.49.
Hope (rural) claimed the highest VCSI in the province at 433.36.
The Top 10 among all reporting police jurisdictions in B.C. were: Fort St. James (rural), Hope (rural), Quesnel, Prince George, Agassiz (rural), Williams Lake, Merritt, Port Hardy (rural), Penticton and Northern Rockies (rural).
B.C.’s big cities, Kelowna, Vancouver, Abbotsford-Mission and Victoria ranked second, 10th, 13th and 18th respectively among Canada’s 37 CMAs.
The Top 5 CMAs in the country were: Lethbridge; Kelowna; Winnipeg, Man.; Moncton, N.B.; and Regina, Sask.
StatCan started tracking the crime severity indices as a better reflection of the relative safety of communities in 1998.
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 a file from Deb Meissner