The Prince George RCMP responded to a record number of calls in 2017, Supt. Warren Brown told city council on Monday.
The RCMP opened a total of 43,973 files last year, up from 41,394 in 2016. Crime in the city has been rising since 2012, when police responded to 36,396 calls.
“We had seven homicides. We ended up (the year) with a very violent spurt of crime in the VLA,” Brown said. “The key driver behind this is drugs. Where there is drugs, there is money. Where there is money, there is organized crime.”
Prince George’s organized crime gangs are “a young, raw” group, he said.
“The vast (majority) of homicides we have are related to organized crime – it’s driven by the drug trade,” Brown said.
Aggravated assaults and assaults with weapons were up 39 per cent in 2017, with a combined 272 cases. Common assaults were up four per cent, with 629 cases.
The number of sexual assaults increased by one, from 59 in 2016 to 60 in 2017.
However, robberies were down 25 per cent, down to 54 in 2017 from 72 in 2016.
The city’s major crimes unit has been busy taking part in and preparing for murder-related “mega trials,” Brown said.
Several major trials, with multiple people charged with first degree murder, are coming up this year, he said, and preparing for those trials takes up a huge amount of time.
“We simply lack the dedicated resources to target… those people in our community who jeopardize our safety,” Brown said.
The city has also seen a significant spike in non-violent crime, often linked to mental health and addictions issues, he said.
“We’ve seen a rise in all property crime,” Brown said.
Vehicles thefts saw a major spike, with a 60 per cent increase in theft of vehicles worth less than $5,000 (200 cases) and a 30 per cent increase in theft of vehicles worth more than $5,000 (181 cases).
Break and enters were up five per cent, to 761 cases in 2017.
There was a 23 per cent spike in mischief cases – 2,023 cases in 2017, compared to 1,646 cases in 2016.
There was also an increase in theft cases, with values of less than $5,000.
The RCMP saw a 10 per cent spike in crime during the summer when large numbers of evacuees displaced by the Cariboo wildfires were in the city, Brown said.
More than 100 transient people who were evacuated to Prince George remained in the city, Brown said.
Since 2013, the number of calls that result in Mental Health Act action instead of criminal charges has increased every year.
That is largely because police are working to get better at identifying mental health issues and respond accordingly instead of the “traditional enforcement,” model, he said. That often involves working with other agencies to get the person the help and resources they need.
The police have also worked to identify both crime hotspots – some of which call the police in excess of 700 times a year – and chronic minor offenders, some of whom police deal with more than 100 times a year. In both cases, police are working with people to reduce crime and the number of times they’re in contact with the RCMP.
Brown said an aboriginal court, aimed at working with First Nations people in the criminal justice system, will be coming to Prince George this year.
In addition, Brown said the RCMP aren’t just working on criminal cases but, since April, have been increasingly cracking down on speeding and enforcement at high-collision intersections.
“We’ve had a marked reduction in motor vehicle accidents at our Top 10 intersections in the city,” Brown said. “(And) the message has gotten out. We have fewer and fewer impaired driving investigations each year.”
Brown said the city’s RCMP detachment is going into 2018 at 129 members, and the detachment has launched some retention programs to encourage experienced officers to stay in the city.
“The average (years) of service is three years at the detachment. After four or five years, we see our members wanting to leave,” he said. “It’s not a very desirable place to work because of the high volume of calls and workload.”