Nelson’s police chief says the latest federal data shows the city is returning to pre-pandemic levels of crime.
The city’s 2022 crime severity index score, a measurement of Criminal Code violations weighted by seriousness of offences released by Statistics Canada, was its highest in five years at 88.64.
But Nelson Police Department Chief Donovan Fisher said the increase is more likely reflecting a normalization of crime in the city after decreases during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rise in CSI for 2022 follows a score of 70.35 in 2021, which was Nelson’s lowest since Stats Can began using the measurement in 1998.
“I do see a lot of this is driven by the first full year out of COVID, and all those final restrictions being lifted, and restaurants and bars being able to allow people back in without being vaccinated and tourists coming back to town,” Fisher said.
“There’s the transient factor as well with some of the vulnerable population that we’ve started seeing an uptick in as well. I think it’s a big combination of all the things that have probably led to some of the increases that we’re seeing across the board.”
Nelson’s CSI remains below the provincial score of 100.37, but above the national CSI of 78.10.
Nelson is the most populous city in the West Kootenay, but its CSI score remains below Castlegar (132.02) and Trail (129.23). Other municipalities in the annual report include Salmo (96.53), Grand Forks and Boundary (71.13), Kaslo (60.12) and Creston (60.12).
The violent crime severity index in Nelson, a similar stat exclusive to crimes such as assault, manslaughter and murder, was also up 37.68 per cent over last year. Violent crime CSI in Canada also rose to 97.74 in 2022 – a five-year high.
The police chief downplayed violent crimes in the city. There was a sharp increase in assault incidents, but assaults with weapons or ones that caused bodily harm was about average for Nelson, at 18. Fisher said repeated incidents occurred between people who knew each other and were also known to police.
“I wouldn’t say the community has experienced overall a significant increase in violence that people should be concerned about.”
NPD responded to 1,036 incidents in 2022 compared to 2021, when there were just 856 incidents – the lowest number in the city in 24 years.
Fisher said the number of incidents is more likely around 3,000. Statistics Canada doesn’t record calls that aren’t crime-related nor reports that are considered unfounded, which is a term used to describe an offence deemed by investigators to have never happened. As well, a mental-health crisis may not be recorded by the responding officer as a criminal incident.
“Mental health complaints range pretty significantly on what the issue is. Maybe somebody a little frustrated or upset, just needing some general assistance, to calls for potentially somebody who’s in distress and and may harm themselves or others.”
Yet even with more calls for service, NPD charged just 108 people last year. That’s the fewest number since 1998, a number that has been dropping substantially since 2019.
Fisher said officers have prioritized diverting calls when possible to other services like the department’s restorative justice program, which can lead to a resolution that doesn’t require prosecution.
The department, meanwhile, suffered a rise in assaults against officers. There were 14 incidents of violence against Nelson police last year, the most since 2010, but Fisher said injuries were typically minor and there was no overall impact on the department.
Statistics Canada also measures weighted clearance rate, which shows the number of cases leaning toward serious offences that end with either an approved charge or an outcome not requiring a trip to court. The NPD’s clearance rate in 2022 was 39.96, which is essentially unchanged from the previous year but also the lowest it has been since 2016.
That score is still the highest in B.C. compared to the 10 other municipal departments. Fisher said he would prefer to see Nelson’s rate higher than it is.
“I still don’t think it’s where we should be satisfied with it. Our goal is over the next couple of years to see that steadily increase and I think we can do that.”
Nelson also has an RCMP detachment whose jurisdiction is the rural areas surrounding the city.
That detachment’s 2022 CSI score of 44.95 is a minor decrease from the previous year. Nelson RCMP responded to 464 incidents, its lowest number in three years, and charged just 38 people, a five-year low.