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VPD Chief Palmer: 'Crime trends in Vancouver are all heading down significantly'

Mayor Ken Sim: "For pennies per day, we get a fully funded professional police service that can actually proactively address the issues that we have being a big city."
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer told Vancouver Police Board members Thursday, including Mayor Ken Sim, that crime is decreasing in the city.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said Thursday that crime is decreasing in the city and he attributes the drop to good police work and having more officers employed at the department.

Palmer made the statement at a Vancouver Police Board meeting and elaborated on the downturn in crime in a later interview with Glacier Media, which included Mayor Ken Sim, whose ABC Vancouver-dominated council has funded the hiring of 100 new officers.

“In Vancouver, sometimes when you hear about a major criminal event happening in the community, it can shake community’s confidence and safety,” the chief told the board.

“But the reality is, the crime trends in Vancouver are all heading down very significantly, and the numbers are going in a really good direction. So it's good news.”

Palmer’s assessment of crime in Vancouver was based on statistics for the first three months of this year as compared to the same period in 2023. He also referenced the first quarter of 2022 in his comments.

“You'll see that violent crime is down 9.3 per cent, property crime is down 11.2 per cent, total crime is down 8.9 per cent,” he said.

“In specific categories, assaults are down 10 per cent, [reported] sexual offences are down 9.1 per cent, theft from auto is down 19 per cent, theft of vehicles is down 29.2 per cent…break and enters are down 27.6 per cent.”

The Vancouver Police Department's operating budget this year is $411.7 million. Photo Mike Howell

'More proactive'

Palmer said city council unlocking funds to hire 100 officers and 20 non-police staff has allowed the department “to switch our focus from being strictly reactive to being more proactive.”

The chief has also previously highlighted the work of psychiatric nurses now working in the VPD’s command centre, where hundreds of mental health-related calls have been diverted from a police response.

In addition, other mental health teams — some that include police, others that don’t — have also been operating in Vancouver over the better part of year. Funds for those teams have been funnelled to Vancouver Coastal Health via the city’s budget.

Palmer cited various projects that have targeted violent criminals and chronic offenders, along with rolling out a long-term strategy to curb retail theft, which has resulted in more than 1,100 arrests and almost 1,000 charges.

“Our organized crime section has been taking down organized crime groups, our homicide section has been arresting murder suspects right after they happen,” the chief continued. “Our sexual offence team is arresting dangerous criminals in the community, and the projects coming out of our patrol districts is just impressive.”

'For pennies per day'

Sim congratulated Palmer for the decrease in crime while also using arithmetic to articulate the rationale for spending money to hire more officers. This year’s VPD operating budget is $411.7 million, an increase of roughly $32 million, or 8.44 per cent over the 2023 budget.

Sim said hiring 100 officers equates to 1.2 cents per day in additional taxes for the average condo owner, and 3.9 cents per day for the average homeowner. The property tax increase this year for Vancouverites was 7.28 per cent, almost two per cent less than 10.7 per cent hike in 2023.

“The payback we get far exceeds the investment that we make,” said the mayor, who successfully moved a motion at a May council meeting to request staff find ways to cap next year’s hike at no more than 5.5 per cent.

Added Sim in an interview: “It's literally pennies per day, and for pennies per day, we get a fully funded professional police service that can actually proactively address the issues that we have being a big city. It's playing out in the stats — crime is down across the board.”

At the same time, Palmer acknowledged in an interview that crime trends are unpredictable and Vancouver will continue to see major incidents that make headlines — homicides, assaults, sexual assaults, robberies and random attacks.

“That's just human nature,” the chief said.

“But my point is that the number of those [crimes] that you're seeing are down significantly in all the major crime categories. I will never say we're going to stop murders, or we're going to stop shootings. It's not going to happen. But we're going to be on people if they're committing crime in Vancouver — we're going to go after them, and we're going to bring them to justice.”

Abandoned non-emergency calls

What isn’t factored in the decrease in crime is the number of abandoned calls to the VPD’s non-emergency phone line. It has been a major issue for Palmer and his officers, who have noted previously the number of crimes not accounted for in statistics.

A report in 2022 from the VPD planning, research and audit section said the department’s analysis of 88,000 abandoned calls in 2021 suggested there would have been an additional 1,700 reports of break-ins to homes and businesses.

Added to those crime reports would have been 1,000 thefts, 600 assaults, 500 calls related to mischief and 200 for fraud, the report said.

A new report before the police board Thursday indicated abandoned calls were down 48.2 per cent in the first three months of the year, when compared to the same period in 2023.

“We're actually answering more calls and responding to more of those calls now, but the crime numbers are still down,” the chief said. “You would think that when all those calls were being abandoned, it would drive the crime stats down. We're actually going to more of those calls, and the numbers are still going down for crime.”

Crime reports falling since 2019

The downward trend in crime is not a new trend, as Glacier Media learned in January after analyzing Vancouver police statistics dating back to 2019. The total number of crimes reported to police decreased from 56,807 in 2019 to 46,259 in 2023.

That’s a decrease of 10,548 in a five-year span.

It's a trend that began in 2020 with 46,608 crimes reported, before dropping to 40,398 in 2021 and then climbing back up to 42,692 in 2022.

The biggest drop in that span was in break-ins to vehicles, with 7,171 recorded last year compared to 16,488 in 2019 — a downward trend police have attributed in previous reports and interviews to the pandemic’s effect on the type of crime.

Break-ins to vehicles have remained steady but far below the trend before the pandemic, with 9,884 recorded in 2020, 7,145 in 2021, 7,038 in 2022 and the 7,171 last year.

What has increased over the past five years are violent crimes, with 6,256 recorded in 2023. That’s an increase of 451 over 2019 and can be largely attributed to assaults, with 4,910 recorded in 2023.

Random stranger assaults, however, have declined.

Police revealed in a report to the police board in November 2023 that a random sample of assault data from 2021, 2022 and 2023 “suggests a steady decline in unprovoked stranger assaults.”

Vancouver recorded 78 homicides over the past five years, including 15 in 2023.

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