Crime is on the rise in Powell River.
In 2019, break and enters were up 140 per cent, theft under $5,000 jumped 60 per cent, simple assaults rose 61 per cent, impaired driving edged eight per cent higher, and drug trafficking was up 48 per cent.
During his annual Policing Report to the Committee of the Whole, RCMP Staff Sergeant Rod Wiebe said a higher caseload combined with staffing shortages made for a perfect storm.
“The caseload was up, and our staffing shortages had a direct effect on our Crime Severity Index,” Wiebe said.
The Powell River RCMP detachment has 27 police officers.
The City of Powell River pays for 19 of those and the province pays for the remaining eight.
The Crime Severity Index is an annual Statistics Canada report that analyses changes in crime rates per 100,000 population across Canada.
It considers both the volume and the seriousness of crime.
“In 2017, we were ranked 110, and in 2019 we were ranked 86,” Wiebe said.
“One contributing factor to the increase is our impaired driving rate. On the severity index, it’s 425 per 100,000 population and the Canadian average is 109 so we’re extremely high in that area.”
Wiebe said the local police’s drug trafficking investigations are up significantly.
“For me that reflects the hard work of our members on the street, talking to people, and getting information,” he added.
“We managed to issue 15 search warrants executed on properties. To put that in context, to get grounds for some of these warrants could take weeks, months, and sometimes it could take over a year.”
Police seized cocaine, meth, fentanyl, cannabis, and GHB, which is a colourless liquid tranquillizer, which can be used as a date rape drug.
“Fentanyl is our biggest seizure. That’s the drug of choice in town, right now,” said Wiebe.
Wiebe said the Powell River RCMP is part of the Provincial Tactical Enforcement Priority targeting process.
Police list all the “who’s who” in the city, meet with other provincial law enforcement agencies, and come up with a list of people to target.
“The amount of work our plainclothes officers are putting in is amazing and we’re recognized as having one of the best rates for disrupting the people we target in Powell River so it’s highly successful,” said Wiebe.
“We take down these people and we seize what we can. We charged nine different people in 2019, including some up-and-comers that decided Powell River is a good place to try and set up business. We act very quickly when these people come to town.”
Meanwhile, mental health complaints are up 20 per cent and are a big concern for policing in Powell River, Wiebe said: “It’s so time-consuming. It’s an area where the police are not always the appropriate agency to be dealing with it, but we are, and those reports are on the increase.”
Wiebe said calls for service have steadily increased, up 13 per cent from 2018 to 2019.
“Given our service, for a small town, we haven’t had to say ‘no’ yet but I’m sure it’s going to come to the point where we’re going to have to start prioritizing our calls,” he explained.