I received an email recently from a person who visited Quesnel during Billy Barker Days. The email stated that as a former resident, this visitor was shocked at the flagrant public drug use and vagrancy he witnessed in the downtown area. His suggested solution was that we establish a secure detention center somewhere outside the City, using Military Police.
Without question, Quesnel is experiencing an increase in vagrancy, squatting, flagrant public consumption of illicit drugs and petty property crime related to drug addiction. We’re also experiencing an increase in violent crime among the individuals who are engaged in the illicit drug trade, and property crime related to drug addiction. This increase in criminal activity is reflected in the annual crime severity index that the press like to make hay with each year.
Based on 2019 statistics, Quesnel now ranks third highest in the overall Crime Severity Index (CSI) and fifth in violent crime. More troubling, we have the second highest five-year average increase in the CSI score.
To put this into perspective: Surrey had 15 homicides, 2,093 assaults, and 2,751 break and enters; Toronto had 103 homicides, 12,417 assaults, and 7,395 break and enters; Quesnel had 1 homicide, 127 assaults, and 183 break and enters. But, Quesnel ranked 3rd out of 237 communities in the overall CSI score, while Surrey ranked 85th and Toronto ranked 126th.
Without question, we need to take the year over year upward trend in the crime rates seriously; but, it’s very hard to take the claims about being one of Canada’s “most violent” communities equally as seriously. Especially when all of the top ranked “violent” communities have populations under 15,000 and rank way above much larger cities that have frequent public shootings and experience murders and assaults unrelated to the criminal class in their community.
Rather than belly ache about statistics though, Quesnel Council has taken and will continue to take concerted actions to deal with the upward trend in overall crime rates. We’ve added two more RCMP officers and have seen an additional officer added by the Province. Our overall actual RCMP staffing levels are increasing and are now closer to our full complement than we’ve seen in years. This will enable us to once again target the prolific offenders who are engaged in the bulk of the criminal activity that occurs in the City.
We’ve also added more Bylaw Officers and equipped them with stronger bylaws to deal with nuisance behaviours and properties. And, we’re working with our Business Associations to ensure they are reporting nuisance activity to Bylaw and not the RCMP so we can deal with these behaviours faster and more effectively. We’re also asking that they take steps to “target harden” their businesses to make them less susceptible to criminal activity.
The City’s Public Safety and Policing Committee and Safer Quesnel Committee are both working to develop programs to assist our residents to identify problem properties and protect our neighbourhoods from property crimes. But, individuals also need to take steps to ensure their vehicles and homes are not easy targets for petty criminals.
As I informed the former Quesnel resident who emailed me: I doubt we’ll be seeing Military Camps established anytime soon, as this is not an appropriate “solution” to deal with the complex social issues every community is now dealing with.
We need real solutions that take into account the Constitution, the law, and human rights, and Council is working with BC Housing, Northern Health, the Province, and other partners to find and implement these solutions.
In the meantime, despite the fact that we’re seeing behaviours we’re not used to seeing and that may make us uncomfortable at times, Quesnel is still a very safe place in which to live, work, and play.