The B.C. government has appointed two experts on urban crime and given them four months to come up with a solution to the chaos caused in downtown areas by a small number of chronic offenders.
Attorney General David Eby said Thursday the province is restricted in dealing with chronic offenders with mental illness, with courts and federal law restricting their ability to keep people in jail. He has been under pressure in the B.C. legislature to deal with a surge in stranger attacks, shoplifting, vandalism and disorder in B.C. urban cores.
Eby said the experts are to consider “real-time electronic monitoring” of chronic offenders, and the use of compulsory orders and involuntary mental health hospital beds to hold people who will not accept voluntary housing with supports for mental illness and drug treatment.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said the problem in his and other downtown areas is partly from people with mental illness and addiction, and partly “career criminal” who aren’t being effectively dealt with by police and courts.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said when Eby asked for data on the problem, she was surprised to see that in the 13 urban communities she and Basran represent, 200 people were responsible for 11,000 police interactions in one year.
“Some of these people are prolific property offenders, and they don’t have mental health and substance abuse issues, and there need to be consequences.” Helps said. “If someone is arrested over and over and over again for shoplifting, but they obviously present with a mental health and/or substance abuse issue,” they need to get appropriate treatment.
The province has appointed retired police chief Doug LePard and Simon Fraser University criminologist Amanda Butler to make recommendations by September.
The mayors collected statistics for Eby to represent the worst cases:
• A Kelowna offender has 29 convictions and 346 RCMP files since 2016 for property crime and assault, as well as “no go” conditions for 11 businesses. “The offender is routinely released with conditions and subsequently reoffends.”
• A Nanaimo offender has 113 police files, 20 charges laid or recommended and seven convictions since 2019
• A Prince George offender has 916 police files since 2016, 262 of them in the past 12 months, and none of the recent arrests have resulted in charges.
• Abbotsford Police are currently monitoring 81 prolific offenders with 10-29 convictions each, a 33 per cent increase since 2019. Of those, 50 are considered “super-prolific” with more than 30 convictions.