whistler rcmp unveiled its 2019 crime stats this week, which showed that violent crime was on the downturn last year, while property and impaired driving moved in the opposite direction.
Presented to mayor and council at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7, overall, the figures showed some promising trends. Violent crime, for instance, was down seven per cent, with 190 incidents in 2019 compared to 204 the year before. Assault, which, at 108, made up more half of the instances of violent crime, was down 20 per cent, from 134 incidents in 2018. Domestic violence went down 28 per cent, from 46 to 33 incidents, while weapons offences also dropped, from 12 to eight incidents.
The violent offence that went against this trend was sexual assault, which rose from 18 to 39 incidents, but this is partially linked to a shift in how the RCMP categorizes sexual assault. In January 2019, Stats Canada changed the definition of a "founded offence" to include reported incidents that are known to have occurred, were attempted or instances where there was no credible evidence to confirm it did not take place. Prior to that, only offences that were proven to have occurred were tallied. The change comes after a comprehensive Globe and Mail investigation published in 2017 that analyzed how police forces across Canada handled allegations of sexual violence. At the time, it found that roughly a quarter of sexual assaults reported in Whistler were dismissed as unfounded.
"It really got back into an 'I-said, you-said' situation, which we would often have as unfounded—but that was not a good, accurate description of our stats," explained Insp. Kara Triance, officer in charge for the Sea to Sky.
Applying the same reporting criteria to 2018, however, sexual assault was, in fact, on the rise in the past year. Incidents rose by approximately 102 per cent, or 13 incidents.*
"Accurately capturing statistics allows the RCMP and our communities as a whole to address sexual violence," said Triance in a follow-up email. "The changes made by Stats Canada allow us to have real conversations about a serious problem, as it pertains to sexual violence, and it lets us work towards making our communities and homes safer for everyone."
Property crime, which has long been an issue for Whistler police, saw a slight jump of five per cent in 2019, from 576 reported incidents to 603. That included increases in auto theft (three to seven incidents); theft from vehicle (63 to 70); mischief to property under $5,000 (120 to 144); and bicycle theft (31 to 48).
"I'm not entirely surprised by this," Triance said of the hike in property crime, adding that a handful of major investigations, including a sexual assault and a child abuse file, diverted detachment resources. "These larger files ... are going to take away from the time they have to focus on thefts and break-and-enters."
The total value of bikes stolen in 2018 was $85,000, which included the theft of a pricy mountain bike valued in excess of $32,000, and is well down from the recent high of roughly $300,000 in 2016.
"Although the number of thefts is up, the value is substantially down," noted Staff Sgt. Paul Hayes. "What that's telling us is that we seemed to have curbed the 'shopping criminals' that are coming up and looking for the high-end bikes."
In other property crime, last year saw drops in both business (12 to 10 incidents) and residential break-and-enters (16 to 10), and theft under (160 to 146) and over $5,000 (12 to three).
Another persisting issue for Whistler RCMP is, of course, impaired driving. There were 385 impaired driving offences in 2019, up from 326 the year prior. Local police have made no secret of their efforts to crack down on drunk driving in recent years, and while Triance commended the work of the detachment, she remains concerned with the rate of impaired driving in the resort.
"I don't want to see 385 people making a decision to get behind the wheel and drive home drunk. It's not OK. We want to get somewhere in between that," she said.
The rise in drunk driving has not, however, resulted in a corollary increase in deadly crashes. There were no fatal collisions on Whistler's roads in either 2018 or 2019. Collisions causing non-fatal injuries have stayed flat as well, with 18 incidents in 2019, compared to 16 the year before.
In drug crime, cocaine possession dropped by nine per cent last year, while "fentanyl-related offences" stayed identical to 2018, at three.
In other notable crime trends, public intoxication fell 31 per cent, fraud dropped by 12 per cent, and mental health-related calls rose by 42 per cent, from 26 to 37.
Triance said mental health, and connecting those in need to social services, is a top priority for RCMP in 2020.
"We've been impacted this year by some serious incidents that we don't report on with media, but have impacted our community, so, anecdotally, just really know that that is an important part of our policing," she said.
*Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly noted a 15-per-cent increase in sexual assault last year once Statistics Canada's new categorization criteria was applied. It was in fact an 102-per-cent increase. Pique apologizes for the error.