Crime stats don’t tell whole story: Sylan RCMP

The alarm isn’t being raised in Sylvan Lake despite a spike in some key crime statistics.

The alarm isn’t being raised in Sylvan Lake despite a spike in some key crime statistics.

In a recent report from RCMP to town council, significant jumps were seen in the number of crimes reported in some key categories.

Break and enters were up nearly 26 per cent over the first 10 months of the year compared to 2011; thefts of motor vehicles were up 171 per cent; thefts over $5,000 were up 46 per cent; and fraud was up 37 per cent.

Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, though, said Staff Sgt. Gary Rhodes, who heads the town’s 14-strong detachment, plus six officers for the surrounding rural area.

“I would say right off the get go that we ignore the percentages,” said Rhodes.

By way of example, he points to reports of criminal harassment, which jumped 140 per cent to 48 to the end of October compared with 20 over the same period a year earlier. That’s an additional 28 reports of criminal harassment (not necessarily resulting in charges) in a town of 12,000.

“If you look at it that way, is that significant? Those are very small numbers considering the population.”

Rhodes said where statistics prove most useful is when trying to identify crime trends.

“If we see a rash of something going on we zero in on that.”

For instance, the latest numbers prompted a closer look at vehicle thefts.

What police found is enlightening. Of the 38 thefts reported this year (compared with 14 over the same 10 months in 2011), 15 vehicles were not stolen, but were towed by the bylaw department. Twelve were vehicles left unlocked with keys in the ignition and taken for joy rides, dumped and later recovered. Only four were stolen and taken away.

Police checked to see if there were any trends among those stolen, such as time and location, make and whether there were suspects. There were no common factors to suggest an organized group at work.

Trends also paint a different picture when taken over a long period.

Between 2006 and 2011, total reports crimes against people increased 18 per cent — to 211 from 179.

That’s not much of an increase when population growth is taken into account, Rhodes said.

Break and enters actually decreased by 21 per cent over the same period, and motor vehicles went from 55 in 2006, soared to 83 in 2007, and plummeted to 18 last year.

Total property crimes were 20 per cent over the same period, and all Criminal Code offences were down about 17 per cent, although they will be up over last year by the end of 2012.

Rhodes likens crime statistics to an ocean wave.

“It goes up and it goes down, and there are a lot of factors that come into play,” he said. The economy, demographics, police resources, which criminals are on the loose, all come into play.

Overall, Sylvan Lake’s crime rate falls below the provincial average.

Mayor Susan Samson agreed that statistics can’t be taken at face value. “When you look at statistics, they can be interpreted in so many different ways.”

As part of this year’s budget review, council decided against putting in a request to RCMP for an additional police officer. It will be revisited in the 2014 budget.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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