(CBC News - image credit)
Statistics released Tuesday say total reported crime in Regina decreased 27 per cent in 2020 from 2019, but arson and sexual assaults saw a large increase.
The city's police commissioners board released the Regina Police Service's year-end crime statistics for 2020 at a Tuesday meeting.
Crimes against people decreased only slightly in 2020, down by four per cent from the year before, but crimes against property dropped drastically, down by 35 per cent compared to the previous year.
Police say it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on crime trends in Regina.
"You look at how many people are able to go out to a bar, to a lounge, to a restaurant and consume alcohol … we're seeing consistently people are spending more time at home," said Regina police Chief Evan Bray.
"They're spending more time online, they're doing online shopping. And so we've had lots of parcels being stolen off of doorsteps. And we're seeing less shoplifting in businesses because businesses are either closed or restricting the number of people that can be in their business."
Meanwhile, there were 186 sexual assaults reported to police in 2020 — higher than the 10-year average of 149.
Bray says it's difficult to tell if that increase has to do with people staying home during the pandemic and any domestic problems that may arise from that.
"Anxiety levels are high. Mental health challenges were definitely real through COVID. And so I do think that that those challenges weighed on people and may have caused some fluctuation," he said.
"But it's really tough for us to suggest that that was the reason for that."
However, he says the Regina Police Service has made a focused effort to improve collaboration with community partners like the Regina Sexual Assault Centre, and better the process of investigating sexual assault complaints the community.
"What that could mean is that more people are comfortable coming forward, more people are confident and have faith in the system, in the investigation," said Bray.
He says the service currently has a review process underway that sees people who work with sexual assault victims brought in to look at investigations. They provide input and advice on how to improve investigations into sexual assault, and on what can be done to help reduce re-victimization of people that have experienced sexual assault.
There were also 78 other sex crime offences in Regina in 2020, compared to the 10-year average of 43 offences. Those sex crimes include invitation to sexual touching, voyeurism, sexual interference and luring a child via a computer.
Bray says the service's internet child exploitation unit, which investigates online-related crime, has seen steady increases in those types of offences.
Web-based crime is on the rise, he says.
"It's something that we've been dealing with for quite some time."
The year 2020 also saw a large increase in arson incidents — up to 245 from 191 in 2019. But police say many cases were tied to one or two people repeatedly offending. Bray says charges have been laid.
As for when the pandemic ends, Bray says it's difficult to tell how Regina's crime statistics will change.
"I obviously don't have a crystal ball to know exactly what is going to happen," he said.
"I do think that COVID is responsible for some changes in behaviour. Whether or not that is directly linked to crime stats or the behaviour of individuals in our city ... I think it would be naive to think it doesn't affect it that way."