Mounties say a significant increase in violent crime in the first quarter of 2019 in Surrey, B.C., is partly due to a new Statistics Canada reporting requirement, and the change is likely to affect police data across the country.
The federal agency announced revisions to its Uniform Crime Reporting Survey last year, following national media attention and police reviews of the use of the “unfounded” designation for sexual assaults.
The changes took effect Jan. 1 and mean that “founded” occurrences now include offences where there may be no evidence to substantiate that an incident took place, but there is also no credible evidence to confirm it didn’t happen.
Previously, offences that could not be substantiated with evidence were not included in a city’s crime statistics.
Surrey RCMP say it’s too early to fully assess the impact of the changes on crime statistics, but its analysis shows that some crime types are impacted more than others including assaults, uttering threats and shoplifting.
In the first quarter of 2019, total Criminal Code offences increased four per cent in Surrey compared with the first quarter of 2018, while violent crime jumped 43 per cent with notable increases in robberies, sexual offences and assaults.
The large Metro Vancouver municipality appears to be among the first jurisdictions to release first-quarter statistics for 2019. Not all police departments release detailed quarterly numbers, says Surrey RCMP Cpl. Elenore Sturko.
She says Mounties are taking a hard look at the data. Some of it is not attributable to the data-collection change — for example, a 48 per cent increase in robberies reflects a genuine theft spike that occurred in the city earlier this year.
“We don’t want to completely write off everything and just say, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s because of the change,’ ” she says.
“Violent crime in Surrey is something that is a priority and is remaining a priority for us. But understandably, some of this is as a result of the (Uniform Crime Reporting Survey) changes.”
Sexual offences jumped by 48 per cent in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same time period last year, while assaults increased 40 per cent.
It’s difficult to say exactly what portion of the violent crime jump was caused by the Statistics Canada change and it’s going to be hard to directly compare 2019 data with previous years, she adds.
Surrey RCMP “fully support” the change, Sturko stresses.
“The reasoning behind making this change is a really important one, I think. It’s giving statistics that are more victim-centred,” she says.
“Hopefully, as a result of these important changes, we’ll be able to eliminate the under-reporting of these serious crime types.”
Statistics Canada has said that a victim-centred approach to recording crimes is emerging. The approach puts forth that, unless there is concrete evidence to prove the crime did not happen, it should be believed that the crime occurred.
The statistics agency likely won’t release the Canada-wide 2019 crime data until spring 2020, says Robert Gordon, a Simon Fraser University criminology professor. It will be impossible to compare it to previous years, he says.
“Basically, the clock stopped Dec. 31 and it restarted under a new reporting and categorization regime Jan. 1,” Gordon says.
He says the changes reflect a major revision to the way police forces count crimes. Sexual assault and family violence have long been considered to be under-reported, and this change aims to address that, he says.
For example, a complainant who tells police they were assaulted but refuses to proceed with the investigation will now be included in the crime numbers, as will a third party who reports child abuse but the child can’t or won’t report the crime, he says.
“All these things where the victim says, ‘Ah, I don’t want to bother,’ you should still be recording them because they are actually crime incidents. It’s important to keep an account of those.”
The change moves Canadians closer to understanding the extent of crime in our communities, but there is still an unknown number of offences out there that never get reported to police, he notes.
“This new approach won’t change that one bit.”