Chilliwack crime rate down 38% over last decade
Shaun Stephan could be a textbook criminology case study in the root causes of prolific offending.
Stephan is poor. He has neurological problems. He has substance abuse problems.
He has a Grade 10 education, but by his own admission he even cheated his way through school to get that.
At 35 years old, he has never once held a job of any kind. This is the definition of a career criminal, a prolific offender.
And it’s people like Stephan that skew all crime statistics across Canada and the entire western world.
It is at least in part because of people like Stephan that the public has a skewed perception of just how bad crime is in Chilliwack and elsewhere.
Crime is going down in Canada, British Columbia and, yes, stop the presses, even here in Chilliwack.
Over the last 10 years the crime rate (total criminal code violation rate per 100,000 population) dropped from 16,525 to 10,179, a decrease of 38 per cent, according to police-reported crime statistics for 2013, released by Statistics Canada last week. (See below for other communities.)
The rate of theft under $5,000 is down 48 per cent, the break-and-enter rate is down 49 per cent, and the motor vehicle theft rate is down 61 per cent.
In that same period, between 2004 and 2013, the property crime rate is down 45 per cent.
The crime rate decreases seen in Chilliwack over the decade mirror decreases seen provincwide.
So why the reduction in crime? That’s a great sociological question of our time. There are demographic shifts, economic factors, social influences, all of which plays out in the shifting crime rates, according to University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) criminology professor Irwin Cohen.
But here in British Columbia, Cohen credits frontline officers and integrated programs for at least some of the good news.
That includes targeting prolific offenders.
“We continue to move more and more every day in police departments to being much more information-led, much more intelligence-led with a much greater focus on those small number of offenders that are responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes,” Cohen said.
All about perception
Across the board, most criminal code offences are on the decline. In Chilliwack, it should be noted that while over 10 years the crime rate is down 38 per cent, most of that was between 2004 and 2010. Over the last four years the rate has actually increased slightly (1.5 per cent).
Certain crime rates remain unchanged, including disturbing the peace, impaired driving and drug-related charges. Overall criminal code traffic violations are also virtually unchanged over the decade.
And while Chilliwack’s rate of decrease mirrors that for B.C. as a whole, the rate remains higher. At 10,179 per 100,000, Chilliwack’s rate is 30 per cent higher than B.C., 32 per cent higher than North Vancouver and 44 per cent higher than Abbotsford.
The rate is also nine per cent lower than Kamloops and 30 per cent lower than Prince George.
So why is it that on certain Facebook discussion pages you might be led to believe that property crime has reached near apocalyptic levels in Chilliwack?
“What you are speaking about we are finding everywhere,” Cohen said. “There is a gap between people’s perception of crime and perception of safety and the reality of it.”
The other problem with statistics is that Cohen believes comparing any community to any other community will always be apples and oranges. Much better is to compare neighbourhoods within communities.
Statistics flatten out the more nuanced reality. Even to talk about a crime rate in one city is misleading, Cohen says, because crime usually hits neighbourhoods in very different ways.
“Crime doesn’t distribute evenly,” he said. “Crime isn’t necessarily up in Chilliwack. It might be up in area A but down in B and C and D.”
Another prolific offender
So far in his adult life, designated prolific offender Shaun Bolko has stolen just about anything not nailed down, or even if it is. He is one of the province’s top 10 auto crime offenders, and he was sentenced in 2010 to 138 days in jail for stealing brass plates from grave markers.
Prolific offenders are such a problem that certain crimes will suddenly drop when one of them goes to jail for a while.
“I don’t know how well the public understands the idea that if you have 100 cars broken into in three days, it’s not 100 people each breaking into one car. It’s two people breaking into 100 cars.”
The message comes in RCMP press releases.
“A small percentage of people commit the vast majority of the property crime in the Upper Fraser Valley,” said Cpl. Brock Rayworth of the Chilliwack RCMP property crime section after Bolko was arrested for stealing a Ford F-350.
“If they choose to continue this lifestyle they will be targeted and end up in jail.”
Bolko received an 81-day sentence for this latest theft. If that included time served since his arrest, he would have been released from custody on July 16.
So he’s out now, adhering to his strict 18 months of bail conditions and his lifetime firearm ban.
Or he’s not, and he’ll be back in pre-trial custody soon and, eventually, back before a judge who will sentence him once again.
And the crime rate will go up.
• FAST FACTS •
Criminal code violation rate per 100,000