Policing

GRAPHS: Is Victoria over-policed? Judge for yourself.

Victoria is one of the most heavily policed cities in Canada. It's also one of the most crime-heavy.

By Snejana Vorona
November 5, 2020
Policing

GRAPHS: Is Victoria over-policed? Judge for yourself.

Victoria is one of the most heavily policed cities in Canada. It's also one of the most crime-heavy.

Photo taken from official Victoria Police Twitter account.
Policing

GRAPHS: Is Victoria over-policed? Judge for yourself.

Victoria is one of the most heavily policed cities in Canada. It's also one of the most crime-heavy.

By Snejana Vorona
November 5, 2020
GRAPHS: Is Victoria over-policed? Judge for yourself.
Photo taken from official Victoria Police Twitter account.

This week, Statistics Canada confirmed that, even before the rise in crime caused by the onset of COVID-19, Victoria was getting more dangerous. Second only to Kelowna, Victoria had the country's fastest-rising Crime Severity Index; a measure that, unlike crime rates, weighs crimes by their seriousness (assault is assigned a higher value than shoplifting, for instance). The BC capital still doesn't have nearly as much crime as prairie heavyweights such as Winnipeg or Edmonton, but it does point to a trend towards more Victorians getting robbed and hurt. Policing in Victoria has become a contentious issue of late, with Victoria City Council considering cuts to the Victoria Police budget even before the recent onset of continent-wide "Defund the Police" protests. Below, our data analyst Snejana Vorona has dug up some of the most illuminating numbers on crime and policing on Southern Vancouver Island.

This graph charts the aforementioned Statistics Canada numbers on Crime Severity Index. What it shows is that, for 2019, Greater Victoria saw a rise in crime rate and crime severity that well outstripped almost any other major Canadian city. This is only a measure of the relative change in crime, however, and doesn't account for the fact that Victoria's Crime Severity Index is still much lower than other Western Canadian cities. Overall, Greater Victoria still has a rate of crime severity well below the national average.

It's probably a surprise to many in Victoria and Esquimalt (the two municipalities serviced by the Victoria Police) that they live in one of the most police-officer-heavy corners of the province. As of 2018, the 111,000 people of Esquimalt and Victoria are policed by a force of 245 officers. In neighbouring Saanich, meanwhile, 122,000 people get by with a force of only 161 cops. In per capita terms, Victoria manages a higher rate of police officers than even the City of Vancouver. And compared to the likes of Oak Bay, Victoria maintains a density of police resources that is nearly 100% higher.

 

By zooming out to encompass cities across the country, we see that Victoria's rate of police officers is high even by the standards of major Canadian metropolitan areas. The average Torontonian, for one, is policed by 30% fewer officers than the average resident of Victoria or Esquimalt. The major difference, which is presented in greater detail below, is that Victoria Police patrol a much smaller and more crime-dense area. Toronto Police are responsible for a massive swath of territory spanning from quiet suburbs to urban downtown. Edmonton Police, similarly, patrol an entire metropolitan region that is home to nearly one million people. Victoria Police, by contrast, cover only the most urban sections of a much larger region. It's a similar issue faced by Montreal, the only major Canadian city with a higher density of police than Victoria; Montreal Police must cover the city's crime-heavy urban core while quiet suburbs are patrolled by different departments. Another factor to consider: It's way, way cheaper to employ a police officer in Montreal than in Greater Victoria. The starting salary for a Montreal Police constable is $41,653. In the Saanich Police, meanwhile, rookies start at $70,150.

This graph pretty well sums up why Victoria felt the need to hire so many cops in the first place. Victoria and Esquimalt count only one third of the Greater Victoria population, but see most of the crime. Murders, stabbings, human trafficking, fraud; these are crimes that occur much more frequently in Victoria as compared to Sidney, Central Saanich, Oak Bay or Metchosin. Victoria not only has one of the highest crime rates of BC cities, but even with a disproportionately large police force, each Victoria Police officer is expected to manage a significantly higher burden of cases. In the last week, for instance, Victoria Police dealt with, among other things,  an arsonist, tracking down a series of wanted criminals, a serious drunk driving collision, a case of tainted Halloween candy, several missing youth, a suspected hate crime, a vandalized mural and a fraud ring involving fake police officers. Just across the border in Oak Bay, meanwhile, the five incidents noted in the Oak Bay Police's weekly blotter included two cases of graffiti and some teens sneaking into a hotel swimming pool.

The end result of all the factors above, for better or for worse, is that the residents of Victoria and Esquimalt are paying a disproportionate share of the cost of policing Southern Vancouver Island. It's for this reason that policing costs are consistently one of Greater Victoria's most contentious local government issues, and the one factor that is most likely to drive talk of municipal amalgamation. Several times in the last year, Victoria City Council has unsuccessfully petitioned the Province of BC either to amalgamate regional policing or to top up City of Victoria coffers to account for the disparity in regional crime.

The Capital Daily newsletter is a summary of all the news and events happening in Victoria, in your inbox every morning.
Subscribe Today
contact@capitaldaily.ca