Crime severity index up in Prince Albert

Police chief says trends reflect those across the province as homicides and gun violence increase prairie-wide according to 2019 data

(Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert saw its crime severity index increase to 279.58, the latest data from Statistics Canada shows.

The 2019 crime statistics and crime severity indices were released Thursday. The data comes from police-reported crime statistics from each jurisdiction across Canada. Crimes are then sorted and assigned a value, or severity index, based on the average prison sentence from Canadian courts over the past five years.

Prince Albert’s crime severity index, or CSI, increased by 16.86 per cent over 2018 numbers, Thursday’s data showed, ranking the city sixth among communities with a population of 10,000 or higher. If all communities served by a municipal, rather than rural, police service or detachment are included, regardless of population, Prince Albert falls to about 20.

The city also saw a spike in its violent crime severity index or VCSI.

The VCSI for 2019 was 387.32, a 32.55 per cent increase over 2018’s index.

That gives Prince Albert the third-highest VCSI amongst communities with 10,000 people or more, and 16th among all municipal police services.

The numbers alone, though, don’t tell the full story.

CSI increased across Canada, Statistics Canada said, increasing in every province, except Quebec.

In the prairies, the increase was driven by homicide, violent gun offences, attempted murder and robbery. Prince Albert saw six homicides in 2019.

“This is six too many,” police chief Jon Bergen said while addressing the city’s CSI data Thursday.

“We recognize that any increase in violence creates fear. Our investigative response to violent crime has led to arrests and charges in all six of the homicide investigations in 2019.

Prince Albert, Bergen said, is not unique in that it’s seeing an increase in the crime severity index and a subsequent increase in crimes involving drugs, guns and gangs.

“This data is dated by almost a year, but it’s still important to measure and fully understand so we can learn, adjust and adapt where necessary to ensure that we are using our resources in the most responsible way to achieve public safety,” Bergen said.

He added that Prince Albert’s overall placements in the crime severity rating index have fallen over the past decade.

He pointed out though, that the data released Thursday doesn’t take into account the high volume of calls in the city, the origin of the people arrested or the greater population that’s served by the city.

“These CSI numbers are based on our core population contained in the census. when you look t our core population, we have a high number of calls compared to other small cities,” Bergen said.

“A number of the people we meet don’t even live in Prince Albert. About 30 per cent of individuals arrested and charged live outside of our community. A high number of people from rural areas or who are transient use the city daily. Our call service load, nationally, is reflective of a community of about 100,000 people.”

Bergen said that so long as the CSI uses the city’s census population as its measure and not the number of people served by a community, the city’s high ranking will continue.

“We know there are many factors here. We know our retail shopping population is closer to 190,000 and we[r a very regional community,” Bergen said.

“If we were measuring against what our community actually served, we would have a much more accurate reflection of where we sit against other comparatives.”

That’s a point that Statistics Canada brings up itself. In its footnotes on its data tables, it notes that communities with large numbers of temporary or transient residents will see higher CSI indices.

A high crime rate or Crime Severity Index (CSI) may indicate that a municipality is a geographical area that provides commercial business, human or public services, or entertainment for many people who reside outside, as well as inside, the municipality,” Statistics Canada says.

“As a result, these municipalities may have large part-time or temporary populations which are excluded from both their population bases and their crime rate and CSI calculations.”

While Bergen acknowledged the “alarming” CSI numbers, he also addressed what needs to be done to start to see the city’s index trending in the other direction.

“Preventing a crime will always be the priority goal over responding to a crime,” he said.

“This is best achieved when we as a community work to address early indicators with proper supports and programming.”

Bergen praised initiatives such as Str8 Up, which help intervene to steer people away from getting involved with street gangs. He said enforcement is a factor in the province’s gang-reduction strategy, but that it’s only a piece of  larger puzzle.

“We know that anything we can do to support somebody that may be suffering through addiction and poverty and all the other many challenges and early education, specific programming to help somebody exit that lifestyle is critical,” he said.

“It’s going to take many partnerships to achieve the results we desire. there are many pillars to the girls that are critical to meeting our goals. enforcement and suppression effort are one of those.”

Board of police commissioners chair Sheryl Kimbley, who joined Bergen on the conference call, agreed.

“We could have 100 cops on the street. If we don’t start looking at the root causes of all of the crime — the homelessness, the drugs, the gangs, the alcohol and how they got here — if we don’t start dealing with that, it’s not going to go away,” she said.

“Crime doesn’t stop because we put more men on the street or because we cut the budget and put the money elsewhere.”

Bergen said poverty, addictions and mental health are “huge drivers” of crime, and that crime reduction will only happen by partnering with other agencies and community groups.

“Our force’s work with hub services and groups …. Must continue to be a part of our policing priorities. Our police service is concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of the community,” he said.

“Our goal as a police service is always to get ahead of crime rather than responding to crime after it occurs. We are continually receiving all trends and patterns of crime in our city and we will continue to do our best to fully be responsible with our resources to meet the needs of our community and respond to all threats to public safety. We are also focused on being involved in those discussions with our community about the root causes that lead to crime.

“We know that community safety cannot just be achieved with police and` crime enforcement, and we are also focusing on earlier intervention and prevention. we know it takes a community effort to keep our city safe.”