Mayor claims Vancouver is one of the world’s safest cities, but is he right?

Jan 21 2022, 10:56 pm

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has been on the defensive in recent weeks, as crime continues to cause concern around the city.

According to the Vancouver Police Department, sexual offences, assaults, and arson increased in Vancouver last year when compared to 2020. Robberies, break and enters, motor vehicle theft, mischief, and offensive weapon charges decreased.

The public perception of crime in Vancouver suggests that it has been more prevalent over the last year, which aligns with some of the stats from the VPD.

Some politicians want you to feel scared. But let me be clear: Vancouver remains one of the safest cities in the world,” said Stewart on Twitter yesterday.

Many people weren’t a fan of that take. So, who’s right?

Crime rates in Vancouver

Trying to actually get a gauge on crime in Vancouver is no easy task. There are reported crimes, unreported crimes, pre-COVID crime rates, and post-COVID crime rates.

There’s also data around crime during the period that Vancouver was in a heavy health and safety lockdown, which impacts the numbers significantly.

Crime statistics available through the VPD only looks at reported cases, and it doesn’t include anything specific when it comes to property crime, or crime that impacts small businesses.

A memo shared by Vancouver City Council in December of 2021 sheds some more light on crime in Vancouver, particularly violent shoplifting and property crime.

A key line from that document reads, “have the VPD work with business improvement associations to create more accurate statistics concerning property crime, which are currently significantly under-reported.”

To say that property crime is “significantly under-reported” suggests that it is happening more than the VPD, or the mayor suggest.

One of the safest in the world?

Calling Vancouver one of the safest cities in the world is a bold claim. A claim that should be easy to verify.

There is no shortage of lists on the internet that focus on livability, and safety, including whether or not a city is a safe place to travel to.

To be considered a world class city — not to mention one that the mayor suggests is one of the safest in the world — you’d expect Vancouver to appear on some of these lists. It doesn’t.

The Economist put together some very interesting data on safe cities in 2021. One of the metrics they measured was personal security, which looked at both crime and financial security.

Vancouver wasn’t mentioned once in any portion of their study when it came to ranking the safest cities in the world. Toronto did make their list.

So, is Vancouver one of the safest cities in the world? Relatively speaking, no.

A Twitter storm

Over the past 24-hours, the mayor has faced some criticism on Twitter for his comments on crime.

Many did not agree with the mayor.

Another account that has surfaced in recent weeks is called “Vancouver is Dying,” which is continuously documenting different instances of property crime in the city.

The Facebook group this tweet is referring to was started by Maddie Clerides, the daughter of John Clerides,who owns Marquis Wine Cellars. He’s faced property crime within the last year.

It is also turning into a key political issue for Stewart’s rivals.

The memo from council seems to indicate that a key strategy is to shift public perceptions on crime.

“Work with media to circulate more good-news stories at a local, national, and international level. Publicize initiatives occurring around the city to draw people back downtown.”

Crime in Vancouver during the pandemic

A study that was put together by Simon Fraser and Wilfrid Laurier Universities has revealed some interesting insights into how crime — especially neighbourhood crime — has changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Downtown Vancouver has seen a huge spike in property crimes over the past year, with storefronts being smashed and robbed seemingly on a regular basis.

One of the key reasons the study points to in regards to why crime patterns have changed is social restrictions.

The study uses something called ‘social disorganization theory’ to explain how the pandemic may have increased crime in certain parts of the city, including looking at poorer areas versus wealthier ones.

“These social restrictions have created a natural experiment in social behaviour and should, in turn, affect rates of crime,” reads the study which was published in the Journal of Experimental criminology.

The study suggests that the findings could be instructive when looking at public health and community safety as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to progress, and as future pandemics emerge.

In looking at crime patterns from other parts of the world, the study points out that there was a peak in domestic violence in the USA after initial lockdowns were declared. They noticed similar patterns in Sweden, Mexico, and Canada.

The study points out that cases first emerged in Vancouver in February of 2020. Social distancing and other measures were introduced a couple months later.

“Vancouver spent March 2020 to February 2021 (the analysis period) in varying levels of lockdown and with high infection rates in the latter half of this lockdown.”

covid crime vancouver

The study also looked at poorer areas of Vancouver compared to more wealthy ones.

One possible suggestion for the results could be that those who weren’t able to shelter in place became more visible when many residents were staying at home.

“During the social restriction period, arson-, assault-, robbery- and weapon-related offences increased in the poorer areas of Vancouver (Downtown, Strathcona, Mount Pleasant) while decreasing in wealthier areas. Alternatively, theft, theft from vehicle and theft from vehicle-related offenses increased in areas that are wealthier (Kitsilano, Kerrisdale, Oakridge and Killarney), with decreases in poorer areas.”

While perceptions of crime in Vancouver seem to be mixed, it will definitely be a key issue as we race towards the 2022 mayoral election.

Amir AliAmir Ali

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