Statistics Canada has ranked Prince Albert third out of 305 communities on a list of areas with the most severe crime.
The Crime Severity Index combines police-reported crime rates with a weighting system to reflect the relative severity of each offence – all the way from breach of probation to murder. On Monday, Statistics Canada released index data for 2016. The Herald requested data for Prince Albert, as well as a ranking of policing areas with a population over 10,000.
Prince Albert’s score stands at 244, up 4.5 per cent from the year before. That’s far above the Saskatchewan average of 149, itself the highest of all ten provinces.
Only North Battleford and Thompson, Man., reported higher index scores than Prince Albert.
The overall jump is driven by more reported break-and-enters, up 18.6 per cent in Prince Albert, as well as smaller spikes in motor vehicle theft and fraud. Violent crimes like robbery and sexual assault were actually down, but not by enough to compensate for the upward tendency in non-violent crime.
Mayor Greg Dionne was not ready to comment on the statistics. He said he is still studying the data. Police Chief Troy Cooper was not immediately available.
Canada as a whole saw a very slight increase – about one per cent – in its index score. Significant increases in fraud and sexual offences against children were balanced out by lower rates of break-and-enter, robbery and a number of drug offences. Homicides were down slightly, though they were up in Saskatchewan.
Prince Albert was an outlier in many areas. The city bucked trends on reported drug crimes, which were down nationally for both marijuana and cocaine. By contrast, Prince Albert saw a 23 per cent increase in reports of marijuana possession in 2016, and a 55 per cent increase in reported possession of cocaine.
But the biggest spike came from crystal meth: police reported 46 cases of possession in 2016, roughly double the year before.
Trafficking in cocaine was also up, but trafficking in marijuana and crystal meth held steady.
Like Canada as a whole, Prince Albert is dealing with increased reports of child pornography. Local police reported 14 child pornography offences, nearly three times as many as in 2015. Six of those were production or distribution cases.
But outside the digital realm, sex crimes against children were down in Prince Albert. In 2016, police reported 10 cases, including molestation, invitation to sexual touching and child luring, for an overall drop of one third from the year before.
Sexual assault was down by about eight per cent, with 54 reported cases.
The statistics also revealed how often police clear cases and press charges. In Prince Albert, there were 8,262 reported incidents in 2016. In all, police laid charges for 4,372 of them, while 402 were cleared in another manner.
Sexual assault cases were cleared about half the time, but only 17 of 52 resulted in charges. Other forms of assault were more likely to end with a charge, including about 60 per cent of aggravated assaults. Assaults against police officers led to charges in more than 90 per cent of cases.
Thirty-one of 89 robberies resulted in charges, as did the year’s only homicide.
Property crimes were much more likely to go unsolved. Out of 3,519 reported cases, only 636 led to a charge. That included 77 of 577 break-and-enters and 50 of 311 motor vehicle thefts. Overall, thieves proved especially difficult to catch, with only about one fifth of non-motor vehicle thefts resulting in charges.
Other Saskatchewan cities saw significant movement on their Crime Severity Index scores. Saskatoon’s was up five per cent. Regina, with a 15 per cent jump, saw the biggest increase of any metropolitan area in Canada. It also leads all major cities with a total score of 126.
But North Battleford is the most troubled area on the list, with a score of 352. That’s five times the national average.
Saskatchewan’s RCMP division responded to the news with a press release on Monday. They pointed out that most of the upward trend in the provincial average, which rose nine per cent, came from homicides. Within RCMP jurisdictions, they said, there were 35 homicides in 2016 – 10 more than in 2015. Other kinds of violent crime remained steady, they stressed, and property crime was actually down.
They said they are focussing on “intelligence-led policing” and targeting their efforts to disrupt gang activity and track repeat offenders.
“All violent crime is cause for concern,” the mounties said in the release. “The RCMP continues to work with its partner agencies and communities to address the root causes such as mental health issues, gang activity and substance abuse.”