COVID helps put slight dent in city's crime stats

Prince George RCMP saw a small dip in crime in 2020, as measured by files opened, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Insp. Shawn Wright told city council during a presentation on Monday night.

Files opened in 2020 added up to 46,668, down by 1,036 from 2019.

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With many businesses shut down and more people working from home, Wright said shoplifting dropped to "virtually nil" for a time while break and enters also declined noticeably.

If the pandemic sparked an spike in domestic violence Wright said it was not reflected in the count as the number of such files grew by only nine from 2019 to 487.

Looking at the downtown, calls for service stood at 6,816, up by 118 from 2019.

Wright said the "vast, vast majority" were non-criminal in nature.

At nearly 1,200, calls related to mischief led the way and Wright said they typically related to someone sleeping in a doorway and causing a disturbance. Next highest was calls for causing a disturbance, which Wright said usually involves someone with a mental health issue.

"I know there is a lot of apprehensions from a lot of the citizens that they don't feel safe downtown, that they think they're going to get robbed, that they're going to get assaulted but statistically speaking, we don't see those numbers being a large part of what we deal with down there," Wright said.

Wright noted businesses in the vicinity of Canada Games Plaza, where public washrooms have been in place, reported a lot of nuisance activity during the summer. But he later also agreed with Coun. Murry Krause that the washrooms meet a need.

"I don't dispute that at all," Wright said. Wright also suggested the storage facilities for street people in the downtown has enabled a "downtown camping lifestyle" but later added they too serve a need.

"Sometimes there are unintended consequences and sometimes the intended consequences outweigh those for sure," Wright said.

He commended Carrier Sekani Family Services for opening in late 2020 the Sk'ai Zeh Yah Youth Centre at 1575 Second Ave. He said it has given people as old as 29 years a place to "hang out" and access services while also lessening the distress on area businesses.

"I have been very pleasantly surprised," Wright said.

Open use of illicit drugs downtown emerged as a theme when Wright fielded questions from city council members. He called the activity a "thorn in our side" but added pursuing prosecutions against individuals who insist on shooting up "not realistic" in today's legal climate.

He said police have relied on patrols to move users along to areas where they can use while out of sight, such as a rooming house or, preferably, the safe injection site at the needle exchange.

He said the 100 units of social housing planned for the corner of First Avenue and Ontario Street and the recently-announced conversion of the National Hotel at First and Dominion to social housing makes him optimistic.

"Nothing is a magic bullet, nothing is going to change overnight, but I think they are very large steps in the right direction," Wright said.

He said people who get their own place also get a sense of responsibility, accomplishment and dignity.

"A lot of these people don't have a place to go, so it'll provide them that opportunity and I think the biggest key to those proposed developments is the fact that it's not just housing, it's supportive housing," Wright said.

Looking ahead, Wright said RCMP are working to get a sobering centre established in Prince George.

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