Nanaimo’s crime severity and violent crime statistics are on the rise.
According to Statistics Canada figures released Tuesday, Aug. 2, Nanaimo climbed to 129.7 on the crime severity index scale in 2021, from 118.7 in 2020 – a 9.3 per cent increase, but lower than the last pre-pandemic figure in 2019, when Nanaimo hit 142.5 on the index.
The crime severity index is based on crime figures reported to Statistics Canada from police forces nationwide. It includes all criminal code violations including traffic and drug violations, and measures changes in the level of severity of crime from year to year. More serious crimes are given more weight and vice-versa, meaning more serious offences have a greater impact on changing a municipality’s index.
The severity of violent crime in Nanaimo took a turn for the worse in 2021, surging more than 44 per cent to 146.0 on the index scale from 101.4 in 2020 – a year with statistics skewed by the effects of the pandemic. Before that, Nanaimo’s violent crime severity index climbed for several years, from 76.9 to 85.4 to 101.4 between 2017 and 2019.
Violent crime impacts a broad range of the policing statistics because severe crimes such as murders, serious assaults and sex-related offences require more resources to investigate, says Supt. Lisa Fletcher, Nanaimo RCMP detachment commanding officer.
“One of the things that will be dramatically captured in that is the number of homicides we’ve had…” she said. “We also have had a dedicated unit that investigates sex-related offences, including pedophile activity, which is different from other communities that haven’t had that … That will impact the community as a statistic.”
There were four confirmed murders in Nanaimo in 2021, each of which drew resources from an already-taxed municipal police force. The detachment has been short-handed due to injuries, illness and front-line officer job vacancies, and Fletcher said police forces across Canada are facing similar difficulties.
“When you have a murder … it’s all hands on deck,” said reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson. “The resources are drawn in because it’s the worst crime possible. You’re drawing from the drug unit, you’re drawing from the street crime unit, you’re drawing from traffic.”
Fletcher noted that murder investigations are ongoing and can overlap year after year, often happening simultaneously, until they’re solved.
Nanaimo residents appear to be feeling the impact of police having to prioritize resources toward serious crime investigations. In a series of six neighbourhood safety audits, conducted last year by Nanaimo RCMP’s Community Policing department and Vancouver Island University criminology students in Nanaimo’s downtown, south end, Old City Quarter, Harewood, Newcastle and Brechin Hill neighbourhoods, the majority of residents surveyed said they thought crime was increasing in their neighbourhoods and most said they felt unsafe walking after dark.
Nanaimo fell slightly on the non-violent crime severity index, from 124.6 to 123.5 between 2020-21, following a 20-per cent drop from figures posted for 2019. The figures could reflect a combination of lower overall property crime during the pandemic and a shift of police resources to deal with more serious crimes.
Dealing with serious crime investigations also affects the weighted clearance rates – convictions and sentencing of offenders through the courts. The violent weighted clearance rate for Nanaimo dropped more than 21 per cent in 2021 from 2020 and the non-violent weighted clearance rate dropped almost 7.5 per cent for the same period.
“We’re putting an emphasis on persons over property, so when we’re looking at calls, what we can investigate, what we can put time and energy into really are the persons offences and that’s where we’re prioritizing,” Fletcher said. “So, some of those other complaints to police that involve property offences, they probably haven’t had the investigative attention that they would during quiet times. Our resource levels are low right now.”
Fletcher said the city has help Nanaimo RCMP shore up its manpower shortfalls.
“They’ve allocated some additional municipal positions because we haven’t been able to staff the RCMP positions,” she said. “Currently the RCMP across Canada is having challenges with recruiting due to COVID and a variety of issues, so we’re waiting to fill positions, and so our members are tired.”
Case clearance rates are impacted by what’s happening in nearby communities, as well. Fletcher noted that the number of police files has been increasing not only in Nanaimo, but also at neighbouring detachments.
“All of this funnels down into a single Crown office and they need to have the adequate resources to put the time and energy into the investigations,” the police superintendent said. “We’ve been working with closely with Crown and trying to make sure that we’re not clogging them up, that the energy is going really to the investigations that will make a difference.”