Police in the Nelson area, Salmo and Kaslo have reported the lowest number of drug violations in a decade, according to annual crime data for 2019 released by Statistics Canada.
Nelson Police Department (NPD) says there was 39 incidents of drug violations last year, the lowest in 10 years and a far cry from 2011 and 2013 when the department reported 155 such violations.
NPD Chief Paul Burkart said the drop in violations has coincided with a national move by law enforcement away from possession charges.
“We want to spend more of our time dealing with trafficking and the importation of them rather than dealing with somebody who has an addiction,” said Burkart.
“Taking away their small amount of drugs they are using to feed their addiction is not going to have a positive result on the community.”
The 39 incidents reported by NDP resulted in 30 people facing charges.
Salmo RCMP had 50 drug violation incidents, followed by 13 for Nelson RCMP and just two for Kaslo RCMP.
Those numbers can, however, be deceptive.
Understanding crime statistics
The NPD received 965 actual incidents of crimes in 2019, which is about average for the previous decade. But several incidents can be tied to the same event.
When Fiona Coyle stabbed two people in downtown Nelson on Sept. 27, 2019, it was recorded by police as three attempted murder incidents (the first of such type in at least a decade in Nelson).
Nelson’s crime severity index (CSI) score, which is a measurement that includes all Criminal Code violations weighted by seriousness of the offence, rose 20 per cent last year to 87.72 for the municipal limits under NPD jurisdiction.
That score is higher than the national CSI of 79.5, but lower than the provincial mark of 104.4
Nelson RCMP’s CSI meanwhile rose 43 per cent to 29.15, and Salmo RCMP’s jumped 21 per cent to 130.30. Kaslo RCMP reported a 1.8 per cent drop to 64.53.
Those rises, however, may be skewed by a change in data reporting. Stats Canada began defining uttering threats, criminal harassment and forcible confinement as violent crime violations in 2019.
That may account for significant rises of such crimes in Nelson, Salmo and Kaslo, but also in turn increased the CSI of each community.
The NPD meanwhile appear to be solving cases at a much higher rate than other municipal police forces in B.C.
Clearance rate is a statistic that measures the number of cases resolved, whether by an approved charge (at which point a case is turned over to Crown counsel) or by what Stats Canada defines as cleared otherwise, which is an ending that doesn’t require a trip to court.
The weighted clearance rate (which, like CSI, leans toward serious offences) for NPD was 53.13 in 2019, more than double the provincial rate of 25.34.
NPD also has the highest weighted clearance rate among the 11 municipal forces in B.C.
Burkart said a department’s ability to clear cases can depend on its number of members, but credited NPD’s success with its community engagement.
“We’ve got guys like (downtown beat officer) Shawn Zukowski out there and he works with people and he has great relationships with people,” said Burkart.
“I think that’s like a lot of our members, and they’re able to work in solving some crimes that other communities probably wouldn’t be able to do.”
Sexual assaults, impaired driving
Other categories come with caveats.
Incidents of sexual assaults in Nelson dropped to just 10 in 2019 from a 10-year high of 17 in 2017, and only one person was charged.
Burkart said sexual assaults are difficult to prove, and acknowledged there are likely more assaults in the city than are reported to police.
“Anytime we can encourage more people to report obviously the better,” he said.
“We do educate people as best we can when they come, but the reality is they are difficult cases and quite often the victims end up on the stand on their own and they’re trying to remember details. Of course, it’s their testimony that’s going to get a conviction, and that’s not easy.”
Impaired driving violations also dropped in the city from 104 to 58, but Burkart warned that may be attributed to availability of police to check for drunk drivers, which can fluctuate from year to year.
Nelson RCMP meanwhile reported 57 impaired driving incidents, up from 38 in 2018. Salmo RCMP said it encountered 36 such incidents, which was a 10-year high. Kaslo RCMP also reported 16 incidents.
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