Kamloops' top cop says court system largely to blame for city's increase in crime

Crime up due to courts?

An uptick in crime in Kamloops is due largely to changes in the court system, which have made it tougher to put people in jail and get charges laid, according to the city's top cop.

Property crime in the first quarter of this year has increased in Kamloops when compared to the same period of time in 2019, according to police statistics presented by RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky to the city's community services committee on Thursday.

Lecky predicted the increase will continue into next year, due in large part to changes in the judicial system.

“I do think that there are some impacts from changes in a variety of things, including case law, Bill C-75, charge approval standards. … I do think it’s impacting and driving the metrics related to our crime stats and property crime specifically,” Lecky said, making the same point multiple times in his hour-long presentation.

"I think that trend, in my opinion, will continue, only because of some of the changes ... in the court system, charge approval standards, bail, case law, policy decisions, all of which is beyond our control. But it is being felt, certainly by us."

Statistics show that break-and-enters affecting Kamloops businesses increased by 13 per cent, when comparing the first quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2021. There were 62 police files in 2019 compared to 70 created in 2021.

Break and enters affecting residences increased by 35 per cent. There were 26 files made in the first quarter of 2019 as opposed to 35 in 2021.

Vehicle theft increased by 114 per cent, with 17 files made in the first months of 2019 compared to 39 in 2021.

Lecky showed statistics that indicated there hadn’t been a dramatic increase in property crime in the North Shore or Westsyde neighbourhoods, although he said there are hot spots around areas in the North Shore.

Valleyview had a decrease in mischief calls, but they did see an increase in thefts, according to Lecky.

“What has changed is the visibility,” he said.

Lecky told the committee that comparing this year’s statistics to 2019, as opposed to 2020, would give a better indication of crime trends due to impacts of the pandemic. Most property crime, with the exception of residential break-and-enter, showed a decrease when comparing 2020 to 2021.

“I anticipate we will continue to see minor but trending upwards increases, in not only the calls for service but certainly property crime,” Lecky said.

He said that property crime, while often minor, is also the most visible, and there typically isn’t an appetite in the justice system to hold people in custody for such a minor offence.

“We will arrest somebody three or four times sometimes and they are released waiting for court appearances before they are actually held, and when they are convicted, if they are convicted, much lesser sentences,” Lecky said.

“It’s mandated now, through B.C. prosecution service, that they must consider alternatives to jail. So collectively, all those things are having an impact on how effective we are in being able to hold people accountable.”

He said police feel the same frustration as council members and the public.

“The amount of times we have to do reports to Crown counsel that don't seem to have the desired effect, breaching people who are on bail and having zero outcome as a result of that, zero consequence, if the charges even are approved, that’s part of the frustration we feel,” Lecky said.

Jeremy Jensen, a defence lawyer and managing partner of Jensen Law, said he doesn’t agree that judicial frameworks like charge approval standards or Bill C-75 contribute to the perpetuation of crime.

“I am sure the police are suffering from the same problems and dynamics that everybody is having to deal with these days. But it definitely does not, in my opinion, come from Parliament's changes or any court case,” he said.

Jensen said charge-approval standards — under which a prosecutor determines whether charges recommended by police will proceed in court — are high by design, and have always been so.

“To suggest that to lower that standard would decrease crime, that doesn't make any sense at all. That's just a 'lock them up and throw away the key' mentality. And we know that doesn't work, getting getting tough on crime does not work,” he said.

“We've already been down that path. It's an absolute dead end — it does the exact opposite. The whole justice system and the whole progression of of a free and democratic society has left that behind.”

Jensen said “almost without fail” those committing property crime have been victims of physical or sexual abuse, or are suffering other serious issues, and use drugs as a means of escape.

“They become horrifically addicted and they do things that they would never do otherwise," he said.

"Locking them up and throwing them away in jail is no cure for that. And heaven forbid the justice system or the courts or the Supreme Court of Canada or Parliament has recognized this and has said, ‘Hey, look, putting these people on strict conditions and clogging up the court systems or clogging up the jails is not how you fix these things.’”

Jensen said putting these individuals through the court system and then in jail is a costly and ineffective response.

“You take one tenth of those resources and put them into social housing, providing stabilities, providing counselling to these people providing a means to access safe drugs, and all these problems of break and enters and crime, they will be significantly ameliorated,” Jensen said.

In the committee meeting, Byron McCorkell, the city’s community and protective services director, said the community needs to work together to find solutions to social issues and associated crime.

He said people on the street are not all criminals, and it’s important to work with social agencies to make sure they are supported.

“We don’t have, as Supt. Lecky indicates, the abilities that we used to take for granted where we would simply arrest people, and put them away. We don’t have that ability anymore and maybe that’s a good thing in a lot of ways, but at the end of the day, that then puts the community more in front of having to make solutions to that,” he said.

“That means more engagement, more social supports, more community involvement, and ultimately, a community solution has to be found. It’s not the city only, not the RCMP only, but the community that is going to get us through this.”

Lecky told the committee he is still calling for a safe supply and a mental health court or community court in Kamloops, as he said he ultimately believes a “coordinated approach” to tackle social issues is best.

“I’d rather try the supportive approach that we have, because it’s really, I do believe, the right way to do things,” he said.

“But we’re going to have to work through this and find creative ways for those businesses that support some of the behaviour, or properties that aren’t cleaned up, there’s other ways to try and address that.”

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