Crime rates have remained fairly level in Victoria/Esquimalt for the last decade, but are significantly down from the decade before. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy)

Crime rates have remained fairly level in Victoria/Esquimalt for the last decade, but are significantly down from the decade before. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy)

Why many Victoria residents may perceive an increase in crime

Crime rates fairly level over last decade, significantly lower than two decades ago

What contributes to people’s perception of crime?

In Victoria, particularly in the last year and particularly on social media, it is common following a criminal incident to see discussion around an increased feeling of lack of safety or a sense that crime is getting worse. Posts about not feeling safe walking through parks or things having been better “when I was growing up” are frequent.

Yet, crime rates in the Victoria Police Department’s district of Victoria and Esquimalt have remained fairly consistent over the last decade, and are significantly lower than they were two decades ago. In 2019 – the latest data available from Statistics Canada – the crime rate (per 100,000) was 11,792, up from 10,540 in 2018, but almost on par with the 2011 rate of 11,573. In 1998 – the furthest back data available – the crime rate was 21,285.

So, why is it then that many people perceive an increase in crime?

Three possible answers are a change in police communications, the echo chamber of social media and the unique circumstances the pandemic has thrust upon people.

Up until about 10 years ago, police – and most organizations – relied on media to get their messages out. Police would fax incidents to newsrooms and it would be up to journalists to decide whether it was in the public interest to know about it and if it should be investigated further, Camosun communications department chair Lois Fernyhough explained.

Now, with the rise of social media, organizations have their own broadcast tool.

“They’re cutting out the middle man, or gate-keeping function of news media organizations,” Fernyhough said. If media picks up on it the message will be amplified, but regardless it will already be out there.

READ ALSO: True crime podcast explores connection between five missing Vancouver Island men

Bowen Osoko and Cam MacIntyre of VicPD’s communication and community engagement division both said posting news releases – what they call “community updates” – directly to social media and their website has fulfilled a public demand for more transparency and information. They also serve an investigative purpose, allowing the public to help identify suspects and find witnesses, missing persons and stolen goods.

An enormous increase in the number of community updates between 2019 and 2020 could be a factor in perception of crime, though. In 2019, VicPD released 186 updates. Last year, that rose to 507.

But 2020 was also the year MacIntyre was brought onboard, and Osoko said they switched from providing many of their reports on Twitter and through direct messages to releasing them all through community updates. So, the tripling in numbers may be slightly misleading.

Police are one of several groups that can benefit from the perception of increased crime though, University of Victoria sociology professor Tamara Humphrey said.

“They’re facing unprecedented push back and there’s a spotlight on how they use their money, so it serves them to show that these budget increases are required,” she said.

Regardless, in a city as media saturated as Victoria, with police posting updates to social media and residents sharing them, it is likely people are exposed to the same crime stories multiple times.

Social media also gives people a platform to share their own anecdotal experiences and incidents that may not make it to the police or into the news. These experiences and the sharing of them can contribute to people feeling less safe, but won’t always be reflected in crime statistics.

Social media does make it so experiences that may have been relayed to 10 or 20 people in person can make it to hundreds or thousands instead. And, during the pandemic, people have relied on social media even more. According to a Statistics Canada report from October, 41 per cent of respondents said they were spending more time on social media and messaging services.

READ ALSO: Encounters leave Vic West woman concerned for her safety

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Social media use goes up as country stays indoors

In Victoria, and many cities, the pandemic has also made homelessness far more visible. While studies do show a connection between homelessness and crime, there is nothing to suggest the increased visibility of the former has an effect on the rate of the latter. Whether crime rates increased in 2020 is yet to be seen.

“Because (people living near encampments are) so close to stigmatized populations, they’re more likely to perceive that there’s an increase (in crime) even when there isn’t, and even when they don’t have direct experiences of victimization,” Humphrey said. The pandemic has also brought an increase in anxiety.

“With the encampments, this has become a fertile ground for people’s anxieties to coalesce around,” Humphrey said. “We’re generally more anxious given the state of the world right now, and we can’t do anything about COVID-19. But, oh look, there’s these people who make me anxious and so they must be the problem.”

READ ALSO: More supportive housing on the horizon for Victoria

It’s human nature to be drawn to out of the ordinary occurrences, Fernyhough said, only now they can be consumed, shared and amplified at an unprecedented rate.

“It’s this sort of endless cycle that’s happened, and people are programmed for things that are unusual and startling,” she said.


Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

crime rateVictoria

Just Posted

Greater Victoria is ranked fourth out of 27 Canadian cities for the best places for youth to work in, according to a RBC report. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria among best Canadian cities for youth to work in, says RBC report

Region ranked fourth out of 27, behind Vancouver, Hamilton and Edmonton

Donna Brower (left) and her daughter Carol Anne Penner, members of the Silver Swans – a quilting group of 12 ladies who meet at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary – with a mountain of masks they sewed. (Photo submitted by Julia Dawson)
Saanich quilting group nabs first prize in Volunteer BC photo contest

Silver Swans sewing club raised more than $12,000 for Swan Lake nature sanctuary

Happy green tomato seedlings wait to be purchased at 3378 Wishart Rd. in Colwood. They’ve been grown especially for the Colwood Garden Society’s fundraiser to build a shed at the community garden. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Colwood Garden Society hopes to raise shed with plant sale

Herbs, vegetable starts, flowers and more for $1, $2 and $3 until May 15

Divyesh Nagarajan, third from the left, has founded the Be My Friend project to bring support and companionship to vulnerable youth and address North Saanich’s food security challenges. (Courtesy of Divyesh Nagarajan)
Greater Victoria teen looks to connect vulnerable youth with a buddy, bolster food security

Be My Friend project was founded by St. Michaels University School student Divyesh Nagarajan

The City of Victoria is proposing a northern contraction from Haultain Street to Bay Street with a western contraction from Cook Street to Chambers Street for Fernwood. (Illustration/Google Maps)
Community association calls for input on Victoria boundary changes

City of Victoria proposes changes to neighbourhood borders

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

A nurse asks screening questions at an immunization appointment in Nanaimo earlier this year. (Shawn Wagar/Island Health photo)
Island Health appreciates nurses answering the call in challenging times

Health authority draws attention to National Nursing Week

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

What3words was first created in the U.K. in 2013 and is credited to saving the lives of outdoor enthusiasts around the world. (Contributed)
‘This is a life saving tool’: App helps paramedics find capsized canoeists near Revelstoke

What3words pinpoints the person’s phone location to a three-meter range

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

Premier Mike Horgan received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Facebook/John Horgan)
More than 50% of people eligible in B.C. have received 1st vaccine dose

‘We’ve made extraordinary progress together over the past few weeks,’ says Premier Horgan

Most Read