THUNDER BAY -- The city’s crime rate may be on a downward trend, but the police chief says there are still issues that need to be addressed.
“We’re not under any illusion that we haven’t got a lot of work to do yet,” said J.P. Levesque, police chief with the Thunder Bay Police Service.
Statistics Canada released its annual national crime report Wednesday and lists the Thunder Bay metropolitan area’s crime severity index at 80 for 2013, a seven per cent drop from the year before.
That number continues a five-year downward trend for the city; in 2009 the crime severity index, which measures the seriousness of reported crimes, was 114.78.
Thunder Bay was also third for homicides for cities with a population greater than 100,000 with three murders in 2013. Regina took the No. 1 spot followed by Winnipeg.
Levesque said it shows the city is moving in the right direction, but looking at the numbers for the first six months of 2014, he’s not certain the trend will continue next year.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty busy year.”
Police confirmed Tuesday, just a day before the 2013 crime statistics were released, that they had arrested three people in the city’s fifth homicide of 2014.
“We’ll have to see what happens this time next year when the numbers come out for 2014,” the chief said.
On Tuesday, after the news broke about the homicide in the Field Street area, Mayor Keith Hobbs said he believes police need to revisit how they operate, adding too many people are dedicated to specialized task forces and there aren’t enough officers on the front lines.
The chief said they have specialty units for a reason and with the types of crimes they deal with, having a couple of more officers on the street per shift is not going to stop the violence they’re seeing.
While 2013’s crime severity numbers are certainly an improvement for the city, Thunder Bay’s crime is still high when compared to other major municipalities in Canada.
The 80.6 crime severity gives Thunder Bay the eight highest crime severity number among the country’s 33 largest municipalities. Canada’s average, which fell the same nine per cent that the city’s crime severity number did, is at 68.7. Meanwhile Ontario’s crime severity, down 11 per cent from 2012, sits below even the national average at 52.5.
The crime picture gets uglier when you separate violent crimes from the non-violent. While Thunder Bay’s crime severity number for violent crime did drop 5.3 per cent, the 115.11 is the third worst in the country.
The answers to the crime issues aren’t just with the police, but other community agencies.
“We can’t arrest our way out of the situation we have with crime in the city,” said the chief.
“You just can’t keep arresting people and think it’s going to solve all our problems. These are social issues.”
The city’s crime prevention council is one of those components and Levesque said initiatives like the managed alcohol and SOS programs are essential as the police are moving toward 4,000 arrests for intoxication this year.
Crime prevention council acting coordinator Lee-Ann Chevrette said she’s happy to see the crime rate’s downward trend continue and while it’s consistent with national trends, she agrees there is still work to be done.
“The nature of crime is that it’s very complex. These are very complex issues and so it takes a really collaborative approach to address this complexity, so it’s the combined effort of city police, city of Thunder Bay crime prevention council and all of the organizations locally who are involved in addressing the root causes of crime – that’s poverty, homelessness, mental health issues and substance use,” said Chevrette.
The combined effort is making a difference, but it’s important the community continues to support initiatives already in place because those programs will have the greatest impact on crime reduction, added Chevrette.