The Central Okanagan experienced a 20 per cent increase in crime last year, according to federal statistics.
This week, Statistics Canada released its annual Crime Severity Index report for 2019, a 69-page document detailing crime statistics in major communities across the nation.
Kelowna, which includes West Kelowna, Lake Country and Peachland, was ranked fourth among Canada’s 35 census metropolitan areas (CMA) for overall crime severity, up from sixth in 2018.
The numbers, though, lead to questions about the Central Okanagan’s crime rate when compared to much larger centres.
For example, Toronto was the runaway leader in homicides across the nation with 130, with Montreal second at 45 and Winnipeg third at 44.
Vancouver was fourth at 44, while Victoria had two and Kelowna with one.
Those numbers are easy to understand. What isn’t, though, are other crime stats.
According to the report, violent crime in the Central Okanagan rose 60 per cent from 2018, with property crime spiking 19 per cent. Oddly, though, drug offences fell 35 per cent.
By comparison, violent crime in Vancouver rose 24 per cent from 2018, with property crime bumping up three per cent and drug offences staying level.
Further, Kelowna had a total crime rate of 10,747 offences per 100,000 people – up 24 per cent from 2018 – and second only to Lethbridge at 11,866.
Vancouver’s rate, meanwhile, was 7,339, an eight per cent increase. Victoria’s rate was 6,601. The national average was 5,874.
To easier understand those stats, the crime severity index ranked Lethbridge at No. 1 at 141.8. Winnipeg was second at 131.7, with Regina third at 130.0 and Kelowna fourth at 121.4. Vancouver (95.4) and Victoria (74.3) were well down the list.
The collective data placed Kelowna at No. 4 in crime overall, No. 14 in violent crime and No. 2 in non-violent crime.
So, is the Central Okanagan, with a population of 216,133 people, simply more crime-ridden than Vancouver (2,692,150) or Victoria (402,108)?
Not so, says Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance.
“We recognize that this ranking appears concerning, but I would like to stress that Kelowna and the surrounding communities remain extremely safe,” Triance said in an email, adding that what’s important is to look at the stats in context.
The report from StatCan includes several notations that say statistics in B.C. and Kelowna increased because of new reporting standards for classifying incidents, including sexual assaults.
“Kelowna is also a resort destination during the summer with a significant increase in visitor population. While that number is not reflected in our population statistics, it does affect reported crime,” Triance said
Further, Triance said the report indicates that Kelowna is ranked 14th in violent crime, but that its non-violent crime – such as shoplifting, mischief, theft under $5,000 and theft from motor vehicles – has adversely affected the region’s ranking.
“Due to the Kelowna CMA’s relatively small population size, one or two prolific offenders who commit these crimes can have a dramatic effect on the region’s crime statistics,” said Triance, adding that police have been monitoring the stats on a continuous basis.
The report backs Triance on that, stating the percentage change in Kelowna is because of an “increase in breaking and entering, identity fraud, shoplifting of $5,000 or under, sexual assault (level 1), and robbery, as well as mischief and uttering threats.”
It also said Kelowna’s stats were partially offset by decreases in fraud and trafficking, production and the importation or exportation of methamphetamine.
The mayor of Kelowna, Colin Basran, called the data an imperfect measure of community safety.
“While most citizens feel safe in the community, we are dealing with increased property crime and that affects people’s sense of safety,” Basran said Friday.
“The 2020 Citizen Survey shows that 87 per cent of citizens say they feel safe. The reasons most often cited by citizens for feeling unsafe are related to the underlying socioeconomic conditions that produce homelessness (33 per cent) and public substance use (16 per cent).”
Basran noted, though, that community safety cannot rest on the shoulders of police alone.
“A multi-pronged preventative approach is needed to reduce crime and improve community sense of safety in our city,” he said.
“RCMP need support from other agencies to deal with repeat offenders. The criminal justice and health systems need to address the underlying conditions that lead to crime, including addictions, homelessness and poverty.”
To view the report from Statistics Canada, click here.