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A snapshot of New West crime today
When Paul Hyland first hit New Westminster’s streets as a constable in 1995 it wasn’t a pretty sight.
Drugs were openly dealt and consumed, and property crime was rampant to fuel the illicit trade.
Residents felt uncomfortable walking around their own Downtown.
Since then crime has dropped dramatically in the city, as it has throughout the Lower Mainland and the country, for that matter, as well.
“Intelligence-led policing is a large part of that,” said Hyland, now a NWPD staff sergeant.
Every Wednesday morning, said Hyland, the department’s unit heads gather to look over the latest statistics, over the long and shorter term, and local versus regional.
The emphasis has changed from the 1990s.
Back then, a lot of resources were put into reducing the street problems.
It was more about arrests and a raw cleaning up of crime that everyone could see.
Now there’s a more holistic approach to dealing with issues on the street with the department recently assigned an officer to be a liaison with Fraser Health, the city and the Lookout Society to assist those with substance abuse and mental health issues.
“There’s a much bigger issue there than just homelessness,” said Hyland.
Helping people who are homeless goes a long way to reducing policing and society costs in general, he said.
Drug dealing hasn’t disappeared, though.
Instead of being outside and overt, now it’s inside and covert. Dial-a-dope delivery service operations are what police are battling these days.
“It’s less visible,” said Hyland. “We have to be more innovative in our techniques and weed out the info on who’s doing what and how to get ahold of them … There’s been a massive reduction in the amount of drug files but we are aware it’s out there.”
At those weekly meetings, the unit heads will look at where the spikes in crimes are and then develop a plan. Sometimes it’s even predictable based on who has been recently released from prison and are back prowling their favourite hunting grounds.
“A small number of offenders are responsible for a large amount of the crimes that take place,” said Hyland.
Car theft used to be big for those looking to fuel their habits, but that’s gone down significantly mainly because of manufacturer technology, said Hyland. The newer vehicles are equipped with theft prevention devices that have proven effective.
What still occurs a lot, he said, is theft from vehicles, although that too is dropping. While the numbers went down from 806 in 2011 to 730 in 2012, a decrease of 9.4 per cent, Hyland said drivers still leave valuables, such as GPS devices, in their cars out in the open and easily accessible.
“Those kind of items are just like magnets to thieves,” he said.
He pointed out improved forensics identification techniques have also produced “great results” in being able to nab thieves. But it’s not an activity police will be able to eliminate, said Hyland, because the vast majority of offenders are doing it to supply a drug habit and won’t stop because they might get caught. “Consequences don’t come into their thought process.”
What makes the city somewhat attractive to thieves is easy access to SkyTrain with its five stations in New Westminster. Ideally, said Hyland, that problem will be eliminated later this year when TransLink activates its fare gates that are currently being installed.
“New Westminster is a small geographic area so the offenders don’t necessarily live in New Westminster, they’re in transit through New Westminster,” said Hyland.
The city’s size comes into play in analyzing other statistics as well. Violent crime stats are hard to peg for trends because New West is such a small sample size. Although Hyland said the city doesn’t have the number of stabbings and shootings it once did, NWPD stats show assaults rose by 12.4 per cent from 2011 to 2012.
But since New Westminster isn’t as big as Vancouver or Surrey, it doesn’t take much to skew the numbers in a good or bad direction. For instance, in 2011 there was one homicide in New Westminster but in 2012 there were two, which is a ‘100 per cent increase.’
“All it takes is one individual in one night and they can bring the number of incidents up.”
Like the drug trade, another crime trend is conducted behind closed doors. While there was only a slight rise of 3.2 per cent in fraud cases between 2011 and 2012, New Westminster seniors seem to be vulnerable to con artists. The department frequently issues press releases about the latest creative telephone or Internet scam.
“If it doesn’t seem right or it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true,” advises Hyland. “The older generation seems to be too trusting. [The fraudsters] will target thousands in the hopes they will get one that gives them what they want. The message is don’t ever give them money.”
Hyland said a frequent tactic is to tell the target they’ve won something but they’ll have to send some money to pay for the taxes to collect it. “That’s not recoverable,” said Hyland.
Overall, the crime trends of the days when Hyland was on the beat are different than those of today, and mostly the changes have been for the better.
“The issues in New Westminster have changed quite a bit,” said Hyland. “We’re happy there’s a downward trend and certainly we feel New Westminster is a safer community to live in.”