The statistic say yes – or maybe – it depends on which numbers you look at
Walking down the streets of Revelstoke, it’s hard not to feel safe. There hasn’t been a murder in town in ages and assaults – aside from the occasional bar fight – are very rare. Property crime is a bit more of a problem – think of stolen trucks and snowmobiles in the winter and the recent rash of bicycle thefts – but for the most part, people feel comfortable leaving their doors (and bikes) unlocked.
Which is why I couldn’t believe it when I was sent Revelstoke’s crime rate for 2011. It was a rate of a whopping 10,867.28 crimes per 100,000 people. That’s nearly 65 per cent higher than national rate of 6,604.04 crimes per 100,000 people. It’s higher than the provincial rate of 9,148.58.
As well, whereas in the rest of Canada the crime rate dropped by about six per cent, in Revelstoke it increased by 11.5 per cent.
So what’s going on here?
Well, the good news is that if Revelstoke does indeed have a crime problem, most of it is minor. While Revelstoke scores high on the Crime Severity Index, a measure by Statistics Canada of the seriousness of crimes committed, Revelstoke scores very low in terms of violent crime. For overall crime, Revelstoke scored 87.91 in 2011, compared to the Canadian score of 77.6 and the B.C score of 95.1.
However, in terms of violent crime, Revelstoke ranks well below the national average of 85.25, with a CSI score of 46.71. Province-wide the score is 94.6. By comparison, Kelowna scored 97.4 in total crime severity and 86 in violent crime severity.
According to John Turner, the Chief of Analysis for Justice Statistics with Stats Canada, that means Revelstoke’s crime rate is likely driven by small crimes, like break and enters, small thefts and minor crimes like disturbing the peace.
“All I can tell from what’s in front of me is it’s the non-violent that’s causing it,” he said.
So the organized crime gangs that make off with an F350 laden with two snowmobiles and the bicycle thieves are driving the crime rate, and not the random assailants and gangs of violent street thugs.
Still, property crime is an issue and no one likes having their stuff stolen. The fact Revelstoke has such a higher crime rate than the national average is still cause to alarm.
I asked Staff-Sgt. Jacquie Olsen, the head of the Revelstoke RCMP, is she could explain the crime rate. She said Stats Canada’s number were probably off.
“I have no idea how they’re arriving at that rate.”
Instead, she pointed me to the Police Resources in British Columbia, 2010, report, which is issued by the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety’s Police Services Division.
That report listed Revelstoke’s crime rate at 79 per 1,000 people, which puts it below the average of cities in its population range in B.C.
“If you look at that and put that in context with other communities the size of Revelstoke, we’re better than most but not as good as others,” Olsen told me.
However, she pointed out, Revelstoke benefits from its isolation in that it doesn’t experience crime from people who live in the rural areas like a place like Merritt or Trail might – two other communities of similar size.
“Our sheltered position here changes things to a large degree,” she said.
Statistics Canada provided the Times Review with the crime rate in Revelstoke going back to 1998. The numbers were separated out into the city and rural area and also into homicides, robberies, break & enters and motor vehicle thefts. So, what can be gleaned from the numbers?
First, Revelstoke’s crime rate has dropped by six per cent since 1998, however it is largely unchanged since 2001. As well, the rate fluctuates widely from year-to-year – from 2003 to 2004 crime spiked by about 25 per cent but other years have seen drops of close to 15 per cent.
Crime in Revelstoke reached its apex in 2005 (over the 1998 to 2001 time period) when the crime rate reached 13,415.78 per 100,000 people.
The crime rate has dropped by almost 12 per cent since Revelstoke Mountain Resort was built. In 2006, the last full year before the resort opened, the crime rate was 12,322.15 per 100,000 people.
Motor vehicle theft was an issue in 2011, with Revelstoke experiencing nearly double the national rate. In terms of break-and-enters, Revelstoke is slight over half the national average.
The numbers Statistics Canada receives come from Staff-Sgt. Olsen. She looks at all the files, tabulates the incidents and files a report, both to Stats Canada and to city council.
“You call in a complaint and it gets scored,” she said. If you report a stolen bike, she’ll note it as a bike theft. If you call in a suspicious noise, it will be investigated. If it’s just a bear lurking in the bushes, no crime will be recorded. If a person is found looking for a way into your house with a home invasion kit, it will be counted as a crime.
She noted that if five crimes are committed during one incident (say someone wakes up the neighbours, kicks a dog, breaks into a home, beats someone up and steals their car and TV), Statistics Canada will only count the most serious personal and property crimes.
The hypothetical violent, animal-abusing, home invading car thief, will be counted as two offences (assault and motor vehicle theft) by Statistics Canada but five incidents will be counted in the report to council (which explains discrepancies between the two reports).
Sometimes an offence can be changed after the file is reviewed. What is originally listed as a bylaw offence can be changed to criminal if the officer’s report warrants it.
What drives crime in Revelstoke?
Small thefts and problems like disturbing the peace could be it, according to John Turner of Statistics Canada.
“It looks like it’s just due to high-rate of property-type crimes,” he said.
For Staff-Sgt. Olsen, a lot of it boils down to drug and alcohol abuse.
“Property crime can be due to yahoos coming out of bars drunk or on drugs,” she said. “Do we have an alcohol problem? Sure, because it’s causing other criminal offences. Do we have a drug problem? Sure, because it’s causing other criminal offences.”
Is Revelstoke a safe community? Our police chief believes so.
“We’re a very safe community,” Olsen said. “We’re not the safest but we’re definitely not the most unsafe. As far as safe goes, we’re close to the top of the pack.”