Violent crime biggest concern for police in 2020 year end stats

Police Chief Jon Bergen said property crime went down in 2020 compared to the previous year. He estimates this is due to people being home more often and business closing down for part of the year. (Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald)

Police Chief Jon Bergen said violent crime and homicidal incidents continue to be “one of the greatest” concerns for the police service, during a police board of commissioners meeting on Monday morning.

While reviewing the 2020 crime statistics for Prince Albert, Bergen said there were nine tragic deaths in seven total incidents of homicide. This is a rise from 2019 where there was six total homicide victims.

“When we do respond to a violent crime of homicide, it’s the most thorough investigation that the organization will lead,” Bergen said.

He added that the police look at all factors to determine what led to the incident. This often includes family violence, mental health, gang violence, addictions, and generational trauma and poverty.

Bergen explained that by looking at these factors closely, the police service is able to adapt their practices.

Police are still investigating a homicide from 2018. All 2019 homicide incidents have led to charges, and three incidents from 2020 are still being investigated.

A suspect was arrested this weekend in relation to homicide investigation from 2021.

“Violent crime hurts the community. It hurts the family and definitely weighs on all our members as well. We (have) seen unusual incidents of homicide,” Bergen said. “When we look back at the year, definitely that’s one of the things that concerns us the most.”

Another serious incident that police respond to is attempted murder. There were eight total incidents of attempted murder in 2020, which is an increase from six incidents in 2019.

As for assault calls, police responded to a 2.4 per cent increase of calls from 2019. There were a total of 816 assault complaints in 2020. The most common type of assault was common assault with 392 reported incidents resulting in 164 charges. The second leading type of assault was assault with a weapon with 274 incidents and 123 related charges.

Property crime was also unusual for last year with 23 per cent less incidents in 2020 compared to 2019. There were a total of 2,581 incidents of property crime in 2020 and 3,351 complaints in 2019.

Police have a number of ideas to why property crime may have gone down in 2020.

“Definitely I would think (it correlates) with the pandemic and people being at home, businesses being closed for part of the year,” Bergen explained.

Theft from a vehicle and theft of a vehicle also decreased in 2020. In 2019 there were 303 reported thefts from a vehicle compared to 235 in 2020. For theft of a vehicle, there were 330 incidents reported in 2019 and 264 reported in 2020.

Bergen added that the clearance rate for stolen vehicles is low. There were only 30 charges laid related to the 264 reported stolen vehicles in 2020. Police were able to find 247 of the stolen vehicles, 175 of which were recovered in the city.

Stolen vehicles were a topic of concern for board members on Monday. Namely, people who leave their vehicles running or leave their keys somewhere in their vehicle.

Of vehicles stolen in 2020, 77 were reported to have had keys left in the vehicle.

Bergen said that stolen vehicles are a unique issue both locally and provincially. Awareness campaigns are run throughout the year to shed light on the high number of stolen vehicles and what measures owners can take to prevent their car from being stolen. Bergen encouraged the public to make sure their vehicles are locked and keys aren’t left in the car.

“Like (Monday), people leave their vehicles running and it creates opportunity for theft, unfortunately,” Bergen added, referring to Monday’s cold weather.

2020 did see an increase in arson incidents. Police responded to 47 incidents last year, whereas 31 arson incidents were reported in 2019. Of those 47 fires, 20 were in residences and six of those residences were vacant.

Board member and Coun. Charlene Miller asked the Chief if those residences were boarded up. Bergen didn’t have that information available and told Miller he would look into it.

As for weapons, police seized more in 2020 than they did in the previous five years. A total of 154 seizures occurred in 2020, resulting in 229 charges.

The most common type of firearms seized by police were rifles, with 46 total seized.

Most firearms seized in 2020 were found during searches of vehicles, residences, and people.

Bergen also spoke about the multi-level response the force is taking to drug trafficking. This includes front line work done by uniformed members, and the work of the Street Enforcement Team and the Integrated Crime Reduction Team. In 2020, there were a total of 133 illegal possession related charges and 108 trafficking charges.

The most common drug seized in terms of both incidents and amount was meth.

In total there was 5,504 grams of meth seized by the police in 2020, in 316 seizures. The next most common type of drug seized was cocaine with 198 seizures and 4,477 grams. There was also three seizures of 13 grams of Fentanyl.

Police board votes to extend strategic plan

Other matters were also discussed at the meeting. The board carried a motion to extend the police service’s strategic plan that was set to end at 2020. Bergen said a big piece of producing a strategic plan is getting out and consulting with community members which could be done under the public measures but would look different.

“I think when the new normal approaches, we would have a better look (and) a better understanding of going forward and what we should be working towards,” Bergen explained.

Police board member Janet Carriere agreed that it was best to wait a year to develop a new strategic plan.

“If we went ahead right now and consulted with the community I don’t feel we’re going to get a very good picture of what is really wanted,” Carriere said.

Online criminal record checks and reporting of crimes was also reviewed. Bergen said it was a good year to have the online criminal record check service available to residents. There were fewer criminal record checks requested in 2020, Bergen believes that is due to less events occurring in the community meaning less volunteers needed, as well as less employment opportunities.

Police also asked residents to report incidents online when appropriate in 2020. This was to reduce people from coming into the station during the ongoing pandemic. He said the service provided online is often in line to what you would get from speaking to an officer in person.

There were 679 reports made online in 2020 which is an increase to the three previous years.

There is an annual licensing fee of $7,976.76 USD for the software, but Bergen explained that the service was able to save both time and money by encouraging residents to make reports online.

It’s estimated nearly 1018 hours and $37,345 were saved when those 679 reports were made online.

The report presented in the meeting also mentioned that online reporting allows officers to be available for other emergencies.

On Monday, the board also approved an updated social media policy to be added to the Prince Albert Police Service manual. The policy was measured against other social media policies for RCMP and Saskatoon police members.

The amended policy covers what social media should be used for and how members should use it, including personal and off duty usage.

Mayor to sit on Community Alcohol Strategy Steering Committee

Also discussed at Monday’s meeting was the Prince Albert and Area Community Alcohol Strategy Steering Committee’s request for a city council member to sit on the committee.

The committee’s work focuses on providing awareness “to build a healthier community through changing it’s relationship with alcohol.”

Mayor Greg Dionne volunteered to sit on the committee for most of 2021, with Miller taking over in October 2021.

Bergen praised the work of the committee. He’s been a part of it for over two years since his appointment of Chief and said the work the committee does aligns with the work of the police board and city council.