For the first time in four years Smithers saw a significant increase in its crime severity index (CSI), violent crime severity index (VCSI) and non-violent crime severity index (NVCSI).
Data released by Statistics Canada (StatCan) July 22 indicate the CSI for 2018 was 138.41 compared to 105.23 in 2017, a 31.53 per cent bump.
Similarly, the VCSI was up 38.07 per cent and the NVCSI rose 28.74 per cent.
Of the 180 municipalities in British Columbia for which 2018 police-reported statistics are available, this ranks Smithers 23rd in CSI, 21st in VCSI and 24th in NVCSI, up from 42nd, 35th and 48th respectively.
The numbers buck a trend since 2014 of steadily decreasing annual indexes. Sgt. Darren Durnin, acting commander of the Smithers RCMP detachment, provided some more detailed statistics and offered a relatively simple explanation for the uptick.
He noted that, in 2017, local police responded to 58 calls for service for the purpose of preventing violence compared to 178 in 2018. Most of those, 122, were calls for service at the Bulkley Valley District Hospital, whereas in 2017 the hospital only generated 11 calls.
“The hospital will utilize our services for an array of reasons, but include to prevent violence,” Durnin said. “Our presence alone, is, the vast majority of the time, enough to reduce the risk of certain behaviours. At times, one patient, with an extended stay at the hospital, can generate several calls for service as our support for hospital staff can include preventative efforts during meal times and for other matters. This was the case in 2018.
“It appears our efforts to prevent violence are responsible for the reported uptick.”
Smaller municipalities have always been skeptical of the meaningfulness of the crime severity indexes 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.
Smithers mayor Taylor Bachrach said as much in reaction to this year’s numbers.
“One of the things Sgt. Durnin has cautioned us about is reading too much into the statistics because there are some things that can skew the statistics and paint a picture that isn’t accurate,” Bachrach said.
“Smithers remains a very safe community and certainly, I don’t think there is cause for alarm.”
StatCan acknowledges that taken discreetly, the numbers can be misleading, but nevertheless maintains it is 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.”
Comparing Smithers to national and provincial data for the period 2014-2018, the town’s 131.46 average CSI is nearly double the Canadian average of 71.58 and 68 per cent higher than B.C.’s 89.9 average.
The Smithers average is also very close to Lethbridge, Alta.’s 2018 CSI of 137. Last year, Lethbridge ranked as Canada’s most dangerous census metropolitan area (CMA), or city with more than 100,000 population.
Quesnel ranked number 1 in the province this year with a CSI of 291.83 displacing Hope which topped the list last year at 253.25.
StatCan started tracking the crime severity indexes 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 indexes gives lesser weight to these types of crimes and more to violent and serious crimes.
Although the national statistics organization has gotten away from using crime rate, which treated each type of incident equally, it does continue to publish the raw data.
In terms of numbers of actual incidents, there were 949 crimes reported to police last year in Smithers, a crime rate of 16,832 per 100,000 population.
Police cleared 404 of those files (42.6 per cent), 148 by laying charges and 256 by other means. A total of 149 individuals were charged with crimes.
B.C.’s big cities, Kelowna, Abbotsford-Mission, Vancouver and Victoria ranked 6th, 10th, 13th and 23rd respectively among Canada’s 36 CMAs.
The Top 5 CMAs in the country were: Lethbridge; Regina, Sask.; Winnipeg, Man.; Saskatoon, Sask.; and Edmonton, Alta.
The Top 10 among all police jurisdictions in B.C. were: Quesnel, Williams Lake, Agassiz, Hope (rural), Fort St. James, Alexis Creek, Hope (municipal), Duncan, Terrace and Dawson Creek.
Ucluelet had the highest VCSI in the province and Quesnel took top spot for NVCSI.