Crime in decline: Police credit ‘community engagement’

Figures released this week by Statistics Canada show that Abbotsford is faring better than its neighbours when it comes to decreasing crime

The Abbotsford Police are being lauded by a local criminologist for their innovative policing strategies

The Abbotsford Police are being lauded by a local criminologist for their innovative policing strategies

The latest national stats show that the Abbotsford-Mission census metropolitan area (CMA) has dropped a notch in its crime severity index over the previous year.

The area was the 10th highest in overall crime among the 33 CMAs included by Statistics Canada for 2011, compared to ninth for the 2010 figures.

The crime stats were released Tuesday by the national agency.

Abbotsford-Mission recorded an index of 87.9 in 2011, compared to 99.8 the previous year. The index is a formula based on the number of crimes in a CMA and the severity of each offence.

The national average is 77.6.

Abbotsford Police Department spokesman Const. Ian MacDonald said the numbers can be deceiving because the CMAs lump together crime figures for different cities.

When Abbotsford is broken out from Mission, it is doing considerably better than surrounding communities, MacDonald said.

The city recorded an index of 77.6 for overall crime, 64.6 for violent crimes and 83.9 for non-violent crimes.

Mission’s index is 121.7, 100.4 and 129.9 respectively. Chilliwack’s figures are 112.6, 91 and 120.8, while the Township of Langley is at 98.1, 63.3 and 111.5.

MacDonald said he attributes Abbotsford’s lower rates to a community that takes an active role in crime issues.

“Look at the reception we get from everything to our crime prevention messaging to our anti-gang and anti-drug messaging. We have a very engaged community, and that has given us a huge advantage … We tell people about the problem, and they help to be part of the solution.”

For example, he said everyone from youths to parents to businesses embraced the anti-gang presentations, poster campaigns and videos that were introduced in response to gang violence in the city.

This violence included several gang-related murders in 2008 and 2009, which resulted in Abbotsford being dubbed the “murder capital of Canada.” The city has since ridded itself of that title, and homicide rates remain low.

It’s difficult to put numbers on how public response translates to lower crime rates, but MacDonald believes it is making a difference.

“It starts at home, and home is a pretty great place right now in terms of community engagement and community involvement.”

Results of a city survey released this week appear to mirror the drop in crime rates. Crime is no longer the primary concern of local residents, according to the 2012 Citizen Satisfaction Syndicated Survey compiled for the City of Abbotsford.

The issue was tops in the previous two years – at 38 per cent in 2010 and 25 per cent last year – but has dropped to second spot, at 17 per cent, in 2012. “Municipal government services” is now the top issue.

“I think it’s like having a hockey team with a good goalie. When you’re not worried about your goaltending, you’re in a pretty good spot,” MacDonald said of the drop.

The national crime stats list the Regina, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg and Kelowna CMAs (in order) as the top five for overall crime, based on their crime severity indexes. Vancouver is in the sixth spot.