Even though violent crime was up in Chatham-Kent last year due to a murder and attempted murder, overall, the municipality saw a reduction in non-violent crime, according to the national Crime Severity Index (CSI).
The CSI for 2018 was presented by Chatham-Kent Police Chief Gary Conn at a recent Police Services Board meeting, and he noted Chatham-Kent has one of the lowest crime rates in Canada. The chief said the violent crime rate was almost half the Canadian and provincial averages.
Conn explained to the board that non-violent crimes, “the Achilles heel” of the service, such as property crimes including break and enter and theft, are still high, but the stats show it is on the decline thanks to initiatives taken by the police service to focus on preventing the crimes and compliance checks on known repeat offenders.
“It is trending in the right direction but there is still room for more work,” Conn noted. “In respect to residential, we saw a 10-per-cent reduction and in respect to businesses in our municipality, we saw a 27-per-cent reduction in property crime.”
Conn said local break-ins are committed by “chronic offender” groups and individuals who are committed to a life of crime – what he refers to as career criminals. These chronic offenders are responsible for most of the local non-violent crimes such as break and enters and thefts, and it can get very frustrating for police when they continually catch the offenders only to see them get released. It puts a large strain on police resources to deal with this type of criminal.
In one case, one offender was arrested for non-violent crimes 82 times and released by the courts on bail, and with certain conditions imposed by the court. Conn said with the habitual offenders, it is a “catch and release” scenario and many of the offenders are transient, moving from area to area.
“It can be challenging and can be frustrating, but the fact is that is our judiciary system. We can catch and charge but then it’s out of our hands. We have one of the best in the world, and I would emphasize that I know they have their challenges as well,” Conn stated. “The Canadian system is based on rehabilitation and that can be very difficult. A lot of these people are suffering from mental health and addictions. We see a direct correlation in regards to drugs and property crimes,” he added.
He said the chronic recidivist offenders are committing the property crimes to fence the items to feed their addictions.
Chatham-Kent police have been getting an average of 200 calls for service every 24 hours over the summer months.
“There is clearly a lot of work that needs to be done in regards to rehabilitation and we also know that just incarcerating a person is not going to work,” the chief said.
Conn noted that more must be done to address mental health, addictions, homelessness, and poverty, which the board is targeting in the CKPS business plan with three pillars of commitment – increased road safety, reduced property crimes, and increased interactions and mitigating interactions with people suffering from mental health issues.
“Those three pillars of commitment are what we are targeting heavily within our service. With property crime number two out of those three, a lot of resources are going to be directed towards it, not just front line but our specialty services like our drug unit and intelligence unit,” Conn said.
The chief added that since the special unit dedicated to answering mental health related calls was formed in 2006 with trained officers and a psychiatric nurse, the number of calls has tripled to more than 1,000 service calls last year.
Editor’s note: See our story next week with Philip Mock from the Prosperity Round Table on initiatives happening in Chatham-Kent to address the issues of addiction, mental health and poverty in our municipality.