Ahead of this month’s municipal election, headlines suggesting an increase in Kamloops crime rates may have caught your eye. Statistics show an uptick in both violent and property-related crimes in Kamloops (Tk’emlúps), but explanations and solutions from newly-elected officials could use a fact-check.
In Kamloops, mayoral and city council candidates contentiously debated how to address homelessness, associated “street crime” and an overall concern for community safety.
On Oct. 8, Reid Hamer-Jackson, who ran on a promise to “ensure a safe, secure and prosperous city” and said he’d relocate unhoused individuals to the outskirts of town, was elected as Kamloops’ new mayor.
Some members of the new council, like Mike O’Reilly and Stephen Karpuk, campaigned on similar platforms, saying the city needs to fund more Community Safety Officers (CSOs), support increased RCMP numbers and keep residential and supportive housing separate.
Meanwhile, other successful council candidates like Katie Neustater, Kelly Hall and Nancy Bepple campaigned on harm-reduction platforms, with some advocating for a “citizens on patrol” program.
Leading up to the election, Hamer-Jackson was vocal about his frustration with “street crime,” an issue he’s previously blamed on harm reduction.
Hamer-Jackson’s business, TRU Market Truck and Auto Sales, is located on Victoria Street West — an area of town chock full of social services.
The downtown business neighbours the Emerald House shelter, the Rosethorn House supportive housing complex and the Mustard Seed Outreach Centre, as well as a recreation area and storage facility for unhoused residents.
Hamer-Jackson has said repeated instances of property crime have resulted in him opening 95 files with the RCMP.
Early last Wednesday, Oct. 19, a car was set on fire at his dealership. When asked if he thought his election had anything to do with the incident, Hamer-Jackson told Radio NL he didn’t want to speculate but found the event’s timing odd, adding he’d never had a car fire on the lot before that morning.
Kamloops’ crime rates on the rise
Prior to the election, CFJC Today and the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce co-hosted a public forum in which constituents were invited to ask mayoral candidates questions. The majority of questions asked at the forum centred on increased crime and a lack of safety in the community.
This anxiety among constituents came after local media outlets reported an uptick in Kamloops’ crime rates based on the newest data from Statistics Canada.
Incident-based crime statistics from 2021 show that reported crime in Kamloops, excluding traffic violations, hit a five-year high with 13,379 incidents reported by the RCMP.
Further, Statistics Canada reported that the violent crime severity index rose by 5 per cent nationwide in 2021, causing local media outlets across Canada— Kamloops included — to suggest a sharp uptick in violent crime.
Statistics Canada defines violent crime as “sexual violations against children, assault (level 1 and 2), homicide, extortion, harassing and threatening behaviours and violent firearm violations.”
Violent crime often involves crimes against persons, which involve force or threat of force against someone. Deliberately and violently hurting a person, threatening or attempting to hurt a person, murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery and some traffic accidents that result in death are included under the umbrella term.
In its 2022 second-quarter status report, Kamloops RCMP echoed StatCan’s findings, reporting an overall increase in crimes against persons and crimes against property so far this year compared to the second quarters of 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Actual crimes against persons increased by seven per cent in Q2 2022 compared to the previous year’s Q2, while actual crimes against property increased by 17 per cent.
Within the report, Kamloops RCMP Superintendent Syd Lecky states, “property crime continues to be the main driver of concern for our community with a 10 per cent increase when compared to last year and 35 per cent when compared to 2019.”
Property crimes are inherently dissimilar to violent crimes and often do not involve force or threat of force against a person. Examples of crimes against property include theft, burglary and willful damage to property which may or may not involve violence against a person.
While property crime and violent crime may both contribute to an overall feeling of danger in areas like the downtown core, it’s disingenuous to equate them with one another. Public perceptions of crime often overplay individual risk and perpetuate collective fear or alarm. Politicians and the media can take part in either maintaining or fact-checking those perceptions.
Kamloopsians aren’t alone in feeling more afraid of crime than ever. Across Canada, the public perception of crime is on the rise, even in cities where crime rates are actually improving.
Crime mitigation tactics vary
While Reid Hamer-Jackson suggests policing is the only way to remedy crime in Kamloops, the kinds of services he’s disagreed with have been shown to reduce crime.
Hamer-Jackson has highlighted addiction recovery centres and policing as solutions to Kamloops’ crime rates, but organizations like the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention (CMNCP) say those are just two pieces of the puzzle.
Canadian studies and social service stakeholders maintain that a preventative approach to crime, rather than a reactionary one, actually increases safety.
Research from CMNCP, which represents over 100 communities, including the cities of Vancouver, Kelowna and Burnaby, and works with the B.C. RCMP, shows more preventative measures should be considered by municipalities.
A topic summary published by CMNCP in August 2020 explains cities can “prevent crime and victimization from happening in the first place by building a society that supports the well-being of everyone.”
“Focusing on broader factors such as poverty, lack of education, and unemployment” can help get to the root of the issue, the document says.
The summary goes on to state that cities with increased “community connectedness, supportive school environments, and positive family relationships” can often mitigate risk factors for crime.
CMNCP also lists community vitality, democratic engagement, education, environment, healthy populations, leisure and culture, living standards, time use and accessibility as indicators for lowering crime risks.
Preventative measures against crime can work not only to increase feelings of safety in our community but can also help achieve the goals expressed by Hamer-Jackson leading up to his election — namely, safety and prosperity.
At the public forum leading up to the election, the majority of mayoral candidates agreed crime mitigation is a complicated subject and added constituents should not be convinced that a single strategy will work to reduce crime on its own.
Mayoral candidate Sadie Hunter went so far as to state, “the answer to how to solve [crime] is not straightforward. If someone does give you a platitude and say they have a straightforward answer with a stroke of a pen — build a facility, move people out to wherever — then they’re lying to you.”
Some social service providers in Kamloops have already expressed anxiety concerning Hamer-Jackson’s philosophies following his election.
Jeremy Cain, a social worker at ASK Wellness Society, was quoted by CFJC saying, “I’m concerned because we primarily enjoyed longstanding and important partnerships with the city, and these past years I have seen a lot of increased collaboration.”
“We’ve been more ingrained in the city than we ever have been in the past few years, so the last thing in the world that we all want is for our momentum and what we’re doing in the community to go backwards.”