Calgary police chief cites economy, new drugs in crime increase: ‘we need more help’

Click to play video 'Police blame slumping economy, new drugs for increase in Calgary crime' Police blame slumping economy, new drugs for increase in Calgary crime
WATCH ABOVE: Police are still looking for a suspect in a violent home invasion that happened last April. An elderly Calgary couple were badly beaten when someone broke into their Forest Heights home looking for money. As Sarah Offin reports, it’s the kind of crime police say now has Calgary topping a cross-country list in rising criminal activity.

Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin says the city has already seen a downturn in crime in the past year following Wednesday’s release of 2015 data. The Statistics Canada report showed the city saw the largest police-reported increase in crime severity across the country at 29.4 per cent in 2015.

READ MORE: Violent crime surges in Canada for the first time in 12 years

“The idea for me basically is if you can lower the presence of addictions, the crime trends tend to come down with it,” Chaffin said. “In the interim we do have strategies to deal with the most prolific offenders, finding those people who are putting people at most risk and dealing with them … We’re already seeing some downturns in those statistics this year.”

Watch below: Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin responds to the Statistics Canada report of increased violence in the city in 2015

Click to play video 'RAW: Chief Constable Roger Chaffin responds to crime stats' RAW: Chief Constable Roger Chaffin responds to crime stats
RAW: Chief Constable Roger Chaffin responds to crime stats

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city’s overall crime rates are “still quite low from a long-term perspective” but was concerned by the increase in theft and break and enter.

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“I’d be very interested to know from the police commission what they think is driving that, how much of that, for example, might be driven by the absolute fentanyl crisis we have going on right now as well as some other issues,” Nenshi said Wednesday. “I was interested to see that our rates of violent crime seem to be well under control and I think our police service has done a really good job on that.”

Watch below: Global’s ongoing coverage of the fentanyl crisis in Calgary

Chaffin cited the province’s struggling economy and the presence of new, “highly addictive drugs” as driving factors for the increase in crime reported by Statistics Canada. He said crime trends increased because of addicts’ need to purchase the drugs — but it’s not just fentanyl.

“Fentanyl obviously has the most notoriety right now because of the deaths associated with fentanyl, but you’ll also see a strong new presence of methamphetamine in the city,” he said. “We’ve been seeing for quite a while that it’s actually driving down some of the trends in cocaine and marijuana.”

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WATCH: Chief Constable Roger Chaffin explains how the economy and presence of highly addictive drugs are increasing crime in Calgary.
Click to play video 'Economy and drugs correlated to increase crime in Calgary: Chief Constable Roger Chaffin' Economy and drugs correlated to increase crime in Calgary: Chief Constable Roger Chaffin
Economy and drugs correlated to increase crime in Calgary: Chief Constable Roger Chaffin

The chief said addictions aren’t limited to certain demographics in Calgary: teenagers to those in their 60s are affected.

“They’re everywhere,” he said. “It’s a pervasive issue for the city, it’s got economic ties to it but it’s something as a government body, as a community that we’re working on trying to find solutions to.”

Chaffin emphasized the importance of working with community partners to find lasting solutions allowing addicts to convert to a healthy lifestyle.

“These aren’t short-term wins,” he said of the successes in decreasing crime in the past year. “You have really big community wellness drivers behind this. So we need more help as we work every day with our community partners through social services, the health sector, education, trying to find solutions that have long-term meaning.

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“The idea if police could just go out and arrest all these people it would make it better is not really a particularly meaningful strategy.”

Alberta bore the brunt of the increases across Canada, with the Crime Severity Index (CSI) in that province jumping by 18 per cent. It’s the largest spike ever experienced by a single province.

“In Alberta, the higher CSI was primarily the result of more incidents of breaking and entering, theft of $5,000 or under, and motor vehicle theft,” Statistics Canada said.

The other major oil-producing provinces, including Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, also experienced significant increases in property crime as their economies struggled with the falling price of oil.

Chaffin suggested fentanyl and methamphetamine problems aren’t specific to Calgary, but extend throughout Western Canada and are trending in North America. He said neither drug can be traced to a “source country” and explained the active ingredients can be brought in and produced locally. The chief said Calgary police are working with other jurisdictions to share information and come up with solutions.

“I’m more confident that this province, this community, can do this. It’s just that we are in the situation we’re in right now and we have to work through it. There’s no way to soft sell this. We have a bit of a hill to climb.”

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With files from Monique Muise