Red Deer’s reputation as a high-crime city won’t go away soon, but RCMP Supt. Warren Dosko hopes the trend towards lower crime statistics will start to erode that perception.
The annual Statistics Canada crime severity index, a measure of crime per capita and based on severity of the crime, had the city rated 10th overall. And for cities with 50,000 people or more, Red Deer had the highest crime severity index.
Taken together, Dosko admits it is very likely Red Deer will be the country’s highest-crime, or most dangerous city in the annual Maclean’s magazine report on crime.
“We’re going to wear it, it’s going to be one of those black eyes you have for a week or two,” said Dosko. “There will be lots of talk about Red Deer being the most dangerous city in Canada, but I think there is some good news in the trend down in crime.”
The ranking and crime severity index value are based on the 2011-12 peak of crime in Red Deer. Dosko said since that peak, there has been a steady decline.
By the third quarter of 2012, City RCMP had gotten a handle on crime, he said, and held it to a 0.7 per cent increase, which became a 7.9 per cent decrease by the fourth quarter. That was the start of the trend towards lower crime — so far this year, crime is down by 10.5 per cent. Dosko arrived in Red Deer in November 2011 and for the first four or five months, he said there were significant increases in crime.
“Since then we’ve seen a fairly consistent progression and it started very slowly. We went from increases to very small decreases to larger decreases.”
Dosko said two types of crime stand out as a cause for the peak: homicides in 2011 and robberies in 2012.
Red Deer set a record for murders in 2011, with six. In the almost two years since, there have been four murders in Red Deer.
“I think the decrease this year is going to surpass the increase (of 2011-12) and even more,” said Dosko. “Last year at the year end, we were at an 11 per cent increase and this year we’re seeing a 10 per cent decrease.
“We’re almost at that neutral (spot) and I think we’ll continue to see that decrease.”
There are about 130 Red Deer City RCMP officers and Dosko hopes they can get staff up to 140 by the end of the year.
Dosko said the addition of a crime intelligence analyst in 2012 has contributed to the drop in crime.
“By adding the crime analyst, we’ve allowed ourselves to be more strategic, we’ve been able to be a lot more intelligence-led in who we target,” said Dosko.
“When we have those serious offenders committing the robberies and the high-end crimes, it doesn’t take multiple instances of those crimes before we catch up to them. Sometimes we’re on to those individuals a whole lot quicker, we can be more strategic and quite often we’re apprehending those individuals after they commit a couple of crimes, rather than going off on a significant spree and catching them after.”
Dosko said, talking with officers, that the types of arrests and who is being locked up are as significant as the statistics.
“We can go make a bunch of arrests tomorrow, but we might not have any impact on the severity of the crime that happens in our community,” said Dosko. “It looks good, we’ve arrested and charged a bunch of people, it looks good in statistics, but when you talk about the safety impact on the community we may have had no impact.”
This means trying to target the persons who are committing crimes that impact the safety of the community. By targeting certain individuals, Dosko said they can also affect the perception of safety in the community.
“We want people to feel safe as well as be safe,” said Dosko, adding that if people do feel safe and go out into their neighbourhoods or downtown, that can help reduce crime in those areas.
To help streamline service, police prioritize calls, and while Dosko concedes that may affect some people’s perception of safety and policing, it has greater impact on overall crime.
“We need to prioritize our calls and we need to go to the most important ones,” said Dosko, adding they are working on a way to better respond to non-urgent calls, which can include car, garage or shed break-ins and minor vandalism.
“We understand that by not having a response impacts their perception of safety. It doesn’t always impact their immediate safety, but how they feel about policing and the community is an important concern to us. We are working on ways to address those calls, but not necessarily have it need to be a gun-carrying, badge-wearing police officer.”
He did say those minor crimes drive the city’s drug industry and that a large majority of those crimes are done by people who don’t want to obtain the item their stealing, but see it as a means of cash. They steal the items to sell them to fund their drug habit.
“Hiring more police officers and throwing police officers blindly at the problem is not the solution. Hiring more officers and being strategic, evidence-based and intelligence-led does help us reduce some crime issues.”