Following a decline in 2018, Happy Valley-Goose Bay saw significant increases in its crime severity index (CSI), violent crime severity index (VCSI) and non-violent crime severity index (NVCSI).
Data released by Statistics Canada in late October list the CSI for 2019 at 200.26, compared to 139.64 in 2018, a 43.41 per cent increase.
According to an article on the StatsCan website, the CSI is “a tool for measuring the increase or decrease in the severity of crime over time in any given jurisdiction, such as provinces and territories, and for comparing the seriousness of crime among jurisdictions.”
The index assigns more weight to more serious crimes and less weight to smaller violations.
For Happy Valley-Goose Bay the VCSI was up 73.12 per cent and the NVCSI rose 34.54 per cent. The increases follow a year of declines in all categories in 2017 in the area.
RCMP Insp. Keith MacKinnon, district commander for Labrador, said following some changes to the way they report data to StatsCan it’s hard to say at this point if there really is that significant of a jump of not.
“(CSI) is relative to a lot of different factors and it draws attention to those factors year over year, and there are some factors in this case that have changed a little bit that would point to a more accurate measure once you have a year or two under the same circumstances, measured the same way,” MacKinnon said.
The numbers are determined on a variety of variables, with some having more weight than others, and in the case of the 2019 statistics there were some changes made in the way they are reported and determined.
In previous years, there was an “unsubstantiated incidents” category, and that has been removed, which means incidents that previously would have been listed as unfounded are now part of the numbers. It’s not clear if those incidents are given the same weight as substantiated crimes.
One of the factors in the numbers is also population, and MacKinnon pointed out a transient population isn’t part of that statistic.
“There are a lot of people who come here for employment or amenities, or people that stay for extended periods of time, so when you do the per capita formula are you really getting an accurate population total? It may be underreported.”
The community is a hub, he said, and the population can swell at some times of the year.
In communities with smaller populations, a single or a few serious violent crimes can also affect the numbers in significant ways, MacKinnon said, and so can individuals who commit a large number of crimes.
“For example, if you release somebody who is a habitual break and enter suspect and when released they commit another break and enter and they get released again and again and again, that sounds like there’s a huge outbreak of break and enters. But the reality, a lot of what we’re finding are repeat offenders, especially for breaches.”
MacKinnon said the area has a number of factors that could also contribute to the increases, including increased income from projects such as Muskrat Falls and Voisey’s Bay.
Frequently when there are increases in levels of disposable income, there are increases in drug activity and organized crime, he said, and that leads to an increase in violent and non-violent crimes.
More drugs mean more addiction issues, he said, which can turn into more crime.
“No one is stealing a chainsaw to cut wood,” he said. “In a lot of cases they’ll sell it to buy drugs.”
Changes in impaired driving legislation also make it easier for officers to do roadside testing with reasonable suspicion of impaired driving, he said, which has also led to more charges.
The detachment has also focused a lot of resources on impaired driving and general investigation, MacKinnon said, which makes it look like the severity of crime has gone up.
“Is there more impaired driving? I don’t think so. I think it’s more enforcement, and that’s a good thing,” he said.
MacKinnon said there is validity to the CSI, but it has to be looked at through the lens of the different factors that affect it.
StatsCan started tracking the CSI in 1998.
Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram