Crime levels are returning to historical norms, says Fort St. John RCMP detachment commander Insp. Tony Hanson, presenting stats from their semi-annual report to city council on August 14.
“I look at the numbers and I sort of see a return to some more of the historical norms for the crime for the city,” he said.
However, that doesn’t mean call volumes are down - they actually increased 28 percent over last year. The lowest file count in decades was seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, noted Hanson.
“To put it in perspective, in 2015, Fort St. John detachment responded to 15,800 calls for service. And the historical norm would be normally between 13 to 14.5, in terms of that,” said Hanson. “But without a doubt, we are seeing an upswing.”
Municipally, file counts are up 34 percent, with 5,402 calls so far in 2023, and 4028 in 2022. Rurally, an increase of 6.5 percent was seen, with 1,272 in 2023 and 1,194 in 2023. The semi-annual report is a record spanning from January 1 to June 30, 2023.
Industry, particularly oil and gas in Northeast BC, is a known driver of crime, says Hanson, bringing in transient populations who engage in all manners of crime - property theft, illicit drugs, and violent crime.
“I don’t have the metric as to why this all may be occurring, but the fact of the matter is that industry is restarted,” he said. “It’s busy in town again. When I drove past the large parking lot in front of the subway by the highway, it was packed with big rigs and industrial vehicles.”
“And two years ago, there was nothing there, right? And that brings the criminals,” said Hanson.
Increased economic activity means money for criminals and an increased opportunity to steal objects - the drug trade is often tied to property crime, said Hanson, with individuals using theft to feed their addictions. Local dealers are then used to acquire their drug of choice.
“In many cases, perpetrated by individuals with addictions who are seeking funds to perpetuate their addiction,” he said. “Or, they’re perpetuated because somebody owes money and has to find the funds. And so, there are cases where actually the others will instruct the people who owe them what to steal.”
Property crime was up by 71 percent in the city, with 697 files last year, and 1,193 files in 2023. Rural areas saw less of a spike with a 29 percent increase - 151 files in 2022, and 195 files in 2023.
Hanson noted that he is generalizing to a degree, but in his experience, he has found the connections between property crime and the drug trade to be true.
Beyond property theft, the city has also seen a rise in the number of break and enters to businesses at 331 percent municipality, 16 in 2022 and 69 in 2023. Rurally an increase of 225 percent was seen - 8 in 2022 and 26 in 2023.
In the rural areas, the thefts are being driven by break and enters to industrial sites, with criminals targeting copper and other equipment.
Auto theft is also a concern for the Fort St. John detachment, despite being close to the historical range. However, sophisticated thefts of newer vehicles with complicated electronics are rarely seen, older vehicles are far more likely to be targeted, says Hanson.
“We’re not seeing that here, it’s old school,” he said. “And often a lot of these vehicles are used and dumped, so they’re probably being used for crime.”
The city saw a 172 percent increase in vehicle theft was seen in 2023 with 79, compared to 29 in 2022. Rurally the increase was only 27 percent, with 28 in 2023, and 22 in 2022.
On a positive note, Hanson says discussions are ongoing with Northern Health over the Car 60 program, which has paired a mental health worker to attend mental health calls with the RCMP.
Funding is being sought to provide a second mental health worker, while provincial support for a mental health app is also expected to be rolled out, with the app already being used at the Prince George RCMP detachment.
The app provides general medical info for symptoms officers may see in attending a mental health call, and has links which provide advanced notices of why RCMP are coming to the hospital, with a report attached.
“It basically allows the officer to translate lay person into medical that’s recieved by the emergency room,” said Hanson. “And it helps facilitate the process and speed up our involvement, so we’re not sitting at the hospital.”
Hanson reiterated that the RCMP were never intended to be mental health first responders and has given several media interviews explaining that point, but with no other front line services available day and night, it often falls on them.
“There are no other front line 24/7 supports, so it falls to the police. Positively though, the public dialogue is now acknowledging this, and so hopefully that will translate into greater supports being implemented by the government,” he said.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Have a story idea or opinion? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News