West Van police chief addresses U.N. summit

West Vancouver police chief Peter Lepine - Outlook files
West Vancouver police chief Peter Lepine
— image credit: Outlook files

In West Vancouver, crime is down by a third and one-half of all reported crimes get solved.

The common denominator among those best-in-B.C. crime stats is what West Vancouver police chief Peter Lepine calls his “prolific offender management” strategy.

And if the opinion of the United Nations department of economic and social affairs means anything — it does — he might be on to something.

Earlier this month, Lepine was invited to speak about his department’s crime stats at the U.N. headquarters in New York, as part of the International Police Executive Symposium.

There, Lepine schooled police chiefs, lawyers, criminologists and judges from around the globe on how West Van’s bad-apple targeting model has put the district atop the crime-reduction pile in the province, and maybe even on the planet.

“The fact is, we solve more crime here than any other police department in British Columbia,” Lepine told The Outlook on his return home to the North Shore.

That’s at a time when crime in this province has fallen faster in the last decade than anywhere else in the world, Lepine added.

“So that said, West Vancouver’s drop in crime has even surpassed [B.C.’s] in particular over the past two years. So we’re doing this rate of drop faster and we’re also doing it in an environment where low crime rates already exist,” Lepine said. “It’s easy to drop when you’ve got crime coming out the yin-yang but try to do it when you’re already at the bottom of the barrel — this is the discussion that they [at the U.N.] wanted to hear from me.”

And many, skeptically, wanted to see the numbers too.

Like West Van’s reported 33.75-per-cent drop in crime from 2009 to 2011, the department’s solved-crime clearance rate of 49.4-per-cent is also the highest rate in B.C.

Compare that number with runners-up like Vancouver,  whose next-best clearance rate was more than 13 points lower at 36.1 per cent, followed by Abbotsford with 34.6 per cent, Delta with 32.6 per cent and Burnaby at 30.6 per cent.

North Vancouver district is down the list in the No. 7 spot with a clearance rate of one-quarter, or 25.6 per cent of all crimes.

“In an environment here where we don’t have a hotspot issue like the Downtown Eastside,” Lepine said, “the key to our success has been the prolific offender management program.”

That means targeting known offenders where they live — almost always outside of West Vancouver and often in the Downtown Eastside, Lepine admits — and reminding them they’re constantly being watched.

“The fact is that we will go to other communities in order to track down our prolific offenders and then monitor their behaviour,” Lepine said. “It’s all about the extra mile.”

But carrying out surveillance on citizens outside his department’s West Van jurisdiction is both expensive and amounts to what some might consider undue harassment.

For Lepine, though, it’s money and time vigilantly spent.

“If somebody gets released from the courts and has a curfew to abstain from drugs or alcohol, well then we have an obligation — so that we can reduce crime — to ensure that they are abstaining from drugs or alcohol,” Lepine said. “Preventing crime is far cheaper than having to investigate crime.”

The chief estimates there are between six and 10 prolific offenders under the watch of his department at any one time.

“And just by focusing on that key group as opposed to trying to catch every criminal, we get the best bang for our dollar,” he said.

Before departing on his WVPD-funded $2,600 trip to New York, Lepine was given yet another stat to brag about. In late July, Statistics Canada released its crime severity index for 239 Canadian communities with populations over 10,000. West Van ranked in 215th place for the overall prevalence of severe crime, while North Vancouver city and district placed 99th and 210th, respectively.


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