By Lethbridge Herald on October 30, 2020.
Lethbridge once again ranked first in the annual Crime Severity Index (CSI) for Canada in 2019. Although the city did not have the highest score for violent crime in the country, and is ranked as the 26th-worst urban jurisdiction for crime in Canada, (down from 15th in 2018), Lethbridge did see an overall increase in crime of about 2.23 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018.
Mayor Chris Spearman said the increase must be kept in context.
“The health and safety of our community is always our number-one priority, which is why we take reports like this very seriously,” Spearman said. “In Lethbridge we saw a two-per-cent increase in our Crime Severity Index from 2018 to 2019. Nationwide that increase was five per cent, which tells us crime rates are not just an issue here in the City of Lethbridge, but something we are seeing increase across the country.”
“Unfortunately this is not a new challenge for us,” he added, “and we saw similar numbers in 2018, which speaks to our ongoing drug crisis and the petty crime that goes along with that. Lethbridge remains a safe city in which to live and do business. The report shows in 2019 we were one of just four municipalities that reported no homicides. Lethbridge also recorded no homicides in 2018.”
Spearman went on to say crime in Lethbridge is not just a policing issue.
“We will continue to advocate to all levels of government for our much-needed social services, and push forward with the good work within the city, and at Lethbridge Police Services, to maintain the high quality of life our residents expect and enjoy in the City of Lethbridge,” he stated. “We are encouraged by recent announcements related to permanent supportive housing, drug courts and treatment beds. But the reality is those resources aren’t here yet and will take some time to build and become operational.”
Deputy Chief Scott Woods said the data reflected in the CSI was from 2019. Since that time, he said, the City had brought The Watch fully on board, the Community Peace Officers and the Crime Suppression Team, and he hoped the 2020 numbers would more strongly reflect those initiatives for next year’s CSI.
“For example, the Crime Suppression Team on the City of Lethbridge has made a significant impact on the illegal drug trade and some of the other behaviours going on within our city,” he explained. “But I also think you have to understand that means more arrests, more charges, and some being more serious charges there could be a fluctuation on that Crime Severity Index going up as a result of that, too. That does not necessarily mean we are not making an impact on some of the things we’re doing.”
Woods said another strange aspect of the methodology behind the CSI, on top of the fact it goes up as more arrests are made by police and go into the courts, is the CSI ranks frauds, thefts and other petty crimes higher in its weighted average than violent crimes like assaults when determining the rankings.
“It’s not a real surprise to see these rates are still trending higher because a lot of things we are dealing with, with the drug crisis, with stolen autos, break and enter for residents, shopbreaking or commercial break and enters, thefts from vehicles, and those types things are on the increase, which goes back to the socio-economic and addiction issues in the city,” said Woods.
Woods expanded on that theme under questioning by reporters.
“I think we would be very naive to think that socio-economic (conditions) and poverty don’t play a role in crime,” he said. “I think there are some things going on in the community, the country, the province, that are tied to socio-economic issues as well as some other things (drugs and organized crime) contributing to the local picture.”
Woods did believe the recent Alberta recession, and the general downtown in the economy, has played a significant role in expanding the amount of crimes being committed in the city.
“Again, I think it would be naive to think with recessions, and people losing jobs, etc., is not potentially playing a role in some of the things we are seeing socially and economically in the city.”
The 2019 CSI did not take into account the two murders which have taken place in the community this year, confirmed Woods, after two years of no homicides recorded in the city, which may impact the city’s violent-crime rating on next year’s CSI.
Spearman was also asked if this increase in crime changes council’s perspective on local police funding, which may be facing a five- to 10-per-cent budget cut this year.
“We are anticipating funding reductions from the province,” he confirmed. “We just received a letter from the province yesterday from the Minister of Municipal Affairs indicating funding would be reduced. So that is going to be a challenge for us going forward. Our community has said, ‘We have no greater tolerance for increased property taxes.’ So every department in the City, including the police, has been challenged to look for efficiencies.”
Spearman said it is a difficult position to be in as an elected official to see reports like this CSI example, and still balance that with the need to find ways to reduce costs.
“To this point, about 22 or 23 per cent of our tax-funded municipal budget goes into policing,” he explained. “And when it is almost a quarter of our total spend, that’s a significant thing. We can’t say that any one area is going to be exempt from review. So the best way to deal with managing that is to ask the experts to review it — make sure the people who are running the departments, in this case the police, are addressing the issues and are looking for creative solutions. They have done it in the past and hopefully they will continue to do that.”
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