Thompson once again ranks high on a list that no one wants to top, Statistics Canada's police-reported Crime Severity Index (CSI), which measures the volume and severity of crime reported to police.
Overall, Thompson was second in the CSI rankings for 2016, which were released July 24, up from fourth in the 2015 survey, but is first by a wide margin in the violent CSI rankings, which measure the volume and severity of violent offences. Thompson's score in the violent CSI was 414.94, with North Battleford, Sask. second with a score of 337.13, making the Hub of the North the only city with a population of more than 10,000 people in the country with a violent CSI score above 400.
In the non-violent CSI rankings, Thompson was third behind North Battleford and Prince Albert, Sask. Thompson's non-violent CSI score was 236.17, with North Battleford's at 357.89 and Prince Albert's at 240.65.
Thompson RCMP detachment Insp. Kevin Lewis says that 2015 was an anomaly for Thompson with low crime numbers and that crime was back to more typical levels in 2016, which also saw three murders recorded, which weighs heavily on the CSI score.
A surge in the transient population is also a factor, Lewis says.
"We see many more transient people that are staying/visiting frequently than in previous years," he said. As a result, because of the community safety officers who have been on the job since spring of 2015, with 2016 being their first and so far only full year of operation, some violent and non-violent crimes have been reported to police more.
"The CSOs are part of the equation as they are proactively intercepting intoxicated persons before they cause problems, resulting in more arrests for disturbances/mischief," said Lewis. "With the sheer number of transient folks and visitors we have in the city, many of the assaults recorded are associated within these groups of people."
Mayor Dennis Fenske says Thompson and the other communities that frequently top the list have several things in common, including northerly and somewhat remote locations, economies based on resource industries and having significant social issues like addictions and mental health.
"We've always been in the top five," he said. "I don't see that changing significantly because of our social issues in the downtown core which is a big driver, until we get a system in place much like Main Street in Winnipeg."
Part of the goal of the Main Street Project in Winnipeg is to divert people into treatment before their behaviour escalates to the level of criminality.
"From our perspective, I don't have any rose-coloured glasses on," Fenske says. "Our community, the demographics, the geography, the social issues that we have, I don't foresee us ever being out of the top 10. But you have to understand the stats and the tools that are being used to measure. Until those tools change we'll continue to be in the top 10."
That said, public safety committee chair Coun. Blake Ellis said in a City of Thompson press release that efforts to reduce crime are continuing.
"While we've seen some success in our downtown strategy through programs like Project Northern Doorway and the Community Safety Officer program, these are ultimately long-term strategies that require continuing investment to see consistent results,' said Ellis. "That is why we saw fit to continue the Community Safety Officer program beyond the pilot stage."
Currently, the city is funding 100 per cent of the costs of the CSO program while negotiating a new funding agreement with the province, which paid half the costs during the two-year pilot stage that ended in May.
Having community safety officers on patrol can be a double-edged sword when it comes to stats-based measurements such as the CSI.
"On the upside, it's increased the presence in downtown in de-escalating a lot of issues but where there are IPDAs [Intoxicated Persons Detention Act] that the RCMP can't respond to because they have higher priorities we're able to respond as CSOs and so we're putting more people into the system that would normally not be there because the RCMP don't have the resources to deal with it," Fenske says. "The upside is that we have CSOs on the street and they're helping assist the RCMP doing their jobs. The downside statistically is they're increasing stats which impact the Crime Severity Index."
With regard to the three homicides recorded in 2016, Fenske notes that one actually occurred in a previous year but became a matter for police investigation last year, while another involved people who were in town for the weekend.
"One was a domestic dispute between two people known to each other not from Thompson who had come in for the weekend. Things got out of hand, they ended up in a homicide," the mayor says.
Thompson's numbers for 2016 show that last year was worse than 2015 as far as crimes reported to police went. In 2015, revised numbers from Statistics Canada show the overall CSI was 225.57, fourth in the country, though at the time the data was released it was fifth with a score of 219.7. The city's violent CSI score in 2015 was 269.08 (reported as 243.95 at initial release), third-highest in the country, and the non-violent CSI was 209.28 (initially pegged at 209.7), the seventh-highest in the country.
Portage la Prairie was the only other Manitoba community to appear in the top five in any of the 2016 rankings, coming fifth in the violent CSI rankings with a score of 206.05.
North Battleford, Thompson, Prince Albert, Williams Lake. B.C. and Red Deeer, Alberta - the top five in overall CSI - were the only communities with more than 10,000 people in the country with overall scores exceeding 200.
The five highest violent CSI communities – Thompson, North Battleford, Prince Alberta, Williams Lake and Portage la Prairie – were the only ones with violent CSI scores of more than 200.
In the non-violent CSI rankings, which saw North Battleford, Prince Albert, Thompson, Red Deer and Langley, B.C. in the top five, all with scores over 200, the only other community with a score above that threshold was Williams Lake.
For the country as a whole, the CSI was up one per cent from 2015, though it is 29 per cent lower than in 2006. The national CSI score was 71.0 in 2016.
Lewis and Fenske agree that there is significant violence among some subsets of the population and very little among the majority.
"Overall, Thompson is a safe place for residents and families," Lewis says. "Our recorded violence offences are mainly isolated to people that know one another, most often than not involve alcohol, and often involve our transient downtown population."
"The question I always ask people when they ask me about it is, 'Did you feel any less safe last year than the year before on a personal basis?'" says Fenske. "Nine times out of 10, it's no. When you look at the general population of Thompson, significantly most are not in jeopardy or in peril or unsafe unless, in some cases, you put yourself in that scenario. Example being two o clock in the morning, downtown area, darkly lit area, you’re not taking the proper safety precautions that you should be as an individual."
Portage la Prairie was also in the top 10 nationwide for cities of over 10,000 people in the overall CSI, in which it was eighth with a score of 185.82, and in the non-violent CSI, in which it was ninth with a score of 178.08.
Selkirk was 13th in both the CSI and violent CSI rankings, with respective scores of 154.72 and 158.64, and 17th in the non-violent CSI rankings with a score of 152.98.
Winnipeg was 44th in the CSI (108.13), 12th in the violent CSI rankings (159.27) and 72nd in the non-violent CSI (89.31).
Brandon's rankings were 60th in the CSI (95.21), 39th in the violent CSI (101.54) and 70th in the non-violent CSI (92.71).
The CSI is calculated by assigning crimes different weights based on seriousness as measured by each crime’s incarceration rate and the average prison sentence courts meted out for each crime. The weighted offences are then added up and divided by population. The CSI is standardized to a base of 100 which is derived from the index values for the year 2006.