Despite decreases in crime statistics Police Chief sees room for improvement

Prince Albert Police Chief Jon Bergen speaks to media during a press conference in March 2021.

Crime stats from 2020 show a decrease in both violent and non-violent crime in Prince Albert last year, ranking PA seventh overall for cities with a population of more than 10,000 people.

Prince Albert also ranked seventh overall in both 2019 and 2018.

The city ranked fifth in violent crime, according to 2020 data. This is a decrease from the previous year when Prince Albert was ranked third . Non-violent crime also decreased in 2020, dropping Prince Albert from ninth to 10th place.

Prince Albert Police Chief Jonathan Bergen explained that a major concern for the police service in 2020 and the first half of 2021 was violent crime, particularly homicide.

“We had definitely a concerning number of victims of homicide both last year and early in this year. Well when we look at the data around violent crime we see that overall violent crime was slightly down in 2020 compared to 2019,” he said.

Even with the decline Bergen noted that there have been 10 homicides in 2020 and another six so far in 2021 which has raised concern in the public and the police service.

“We continue to focus to make sure that we are doing the most thorough investigation and we are still looking at the drivers and any information we can learn from that led to those incidents to make sure that we are focused and deploying our resources as efficiently and as effectively as possible,” he explained.

Bergen added that monitoring crime trends in 2020 the service noticed a significant drop in property crime which he attributed to changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic such as business closures and funding supports.

“We saw businesses close, we have seen different funding options available to support people. We know that addictions and poverty lead to property crime and when we saw through the pandemic that there was funding and resources available for all people.”

He explained that the police service adjusted their staffing and refocused them to different locations and monitoring businesses that were not occupied.

“We did adjust and refocus staff to make sure that we are protecting property throughout the pandemic. But we did see an over 20 per cent decrease in property crime,” Bergen said.

According to Bergen break and enters are another statistic that jumped out in the rankings.

“So that is definitely an area that we are going to assess the data and take a look at how we are deploying and make sure that we are focused in the right areas and learn from the report that has been released today,” Bergen said.

The statistics represent the lowest overall ranking and the lowest non-violent ranking for Prince Albert in 10 years.

The Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (Statistics Canada) released the 2020 Crime Statistics and the Crime Severity Index (CSI) values for Canada on Tuesday. The annual rankings use police-reported data to compare the severity of crime and violent crime in approximately 300 communities with populations over 10,000.

Bergen explained that one important part of this report is learning where Prince Albert places in relation to other communities.

“It gives us more information on what the country has done with crime stats. So it gives us an opportunity to see what’s trending across Canada not just in Prince Albert,” Bergen said.

Along with monitoring their own statistics they monitor provincially as well. He noted that other communities in Saskatchewan and Canada are seeing similar trends.

“When we are concerned about the incidence of homicide we recognize that throughout the country there was an upward trend in homicides as well. This information gives us a more detailed look at what has happened across the country,” Bergen said.

This year’s CSI statistics show violent crime is at its second-lowest level in the last decade. Prince Albert also ranked fifth for violent crime in both 2014 and 2012. The rankings do not reflect this current year.

Every year PAPS reviews data contained in the annual rankings, including the various factors that can lead to crime in the community. That includes things like poverty, addictions, and mental health concerns.

Bergen explained that another forthcoming project is the proactive policing strategy which will see staff deployed as 2021 concludes.

“That is going to be a unit that responds to different crime trends and different hot spots throughout the community so that we are working with those root issues in real time based on analytics and based on the different crime trends that we are observing throughout the year,” Bergen said.

The proactive policing strategy was approved by the Board of Police Commissioners in April and later approved by city council. The plan are s for a new multi-year strategy that would see four additional police officers on patrol in Prince Albert focused on proactive policing and addressing local crime trends.

The plan will target property crime, gang activity and violence.

Following approval in April by city council to fund four additional police officers through a new $35 base tax, the Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners approved a proposal from the police service outlining a strategy to proactively address crime trends and problem addresses.

“As we get our new staff trained and recruit training here near the end of the year and we will be deploying senior staff into that proactive policing unit to focus on those different initiatives,”

The police service also tracks trends and statistics on a daily basis and has a number of targeted enforcement initiatives aimed at combatting weapons violence, drugs and property crime. Bergen explained that they watch data for calls on a shift to shift basis to see what calls are coming in,

“We have people that have analyst training that take a look and assess the data regularly,” Bergen said.

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