High levels of chronic offenders force VPD to change definition

January 24, 2013
Jan 22 2013 VANCOUVER - Vancouver has so many chronic offenders that police had to change the definition of the term just to keep tabs on the worst of them. Most forces define a chronic offender as someone with five convictions in the last 12 months. But that definition led to an unmanageable case load for the seven-officer Chronic Offender Unit, so police arbitrarily decided that in Vancouver you need 12 convictions in 12 months to make the chronic-offender list.

Jan 22 2013

VANCOUVER - Vancouver has so many chronic offenders that police had to change the definition of the term just to keep tabs on the worst of them.

Most forces define a chronic offender as someone with five convictions in the last 12 months.

But that definition led to an unmanageable case load for the seven-officer Chronic Offender Unit, so police arbitrarily decided that in Vancouver you need 12 convictions in 12 months to make the chronic-offender list.

“Eighty per cent of all crimes are committed by five to 10 per cent of criminals,” Vancouver Police Sgt. Bill Pake told the Vancouver Police Board on Tuesday.

“Eighty-five per cent of chronic offenders have addiction issues, and 35 per cent have mental health issues.”

Under the former definition in Vancouver — five convictions in 12 months — the small unit would have had to keep track of more than 800 criminals, watching for court dates, release conditions, preparing background to ensure judges and prosecutors have the latest updated court records.

With the definition at 12 convictions per year, the unit is keeping an eye on “only” the 345 worst chronic offenders.

Pake told the police board that those offenders are 88 per cent male, averaging 48 convictions each, with some offenders racking up huge conviction totals.

Sixty of the chronic offenders have 75 convictions or more, 26 have 100 or more convictions, and the worst four have 150 convictions to their name.

Meanwhile, Mayor Gregor Robertson, who chairs the police board, said now is the time to begin work on a regional force, as recommended by Commissioner Wally Oppal.

“Some areas believe they have better service with their own force,” Robertson said.

“That might be true in some cases, but overall for the region I believe it will be better to have a regional police force.

“I believe a regional police force will save lives, and save money, but it’s a big piece of work to get there....

"The B.C. election is an opportunity to break the logjam on creating a Metro police force,'' he said. "At this point it's not a top issue that party leaders are addressing directly. There have been comments made towards it but we'll look to see what's in the party platforms and see if this emerges as a key differentiating mark between the leaders and their parties.''

Robertson said it's up to the provincial government to bring together municipal police forces and politicians who don't believe a merged force is necessary.

Oppal concluded that a regional force may have nabbed convicted serial killer Robert Pickton sooner, saving lives, and establishing a regional force is one of the most ambitious recommendations of his Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

Politicians and police forces are now weighing in on where they stand on Oppal’s recommendation.

“There is no consensus among the chiefs,” said Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, who supports a regional force.

“We cannot speak with one united voice.”

Chu said his department made it clear as far back as 2004 that a regional police force would be more effective in solving major crimes.

But Chu said there's no agreement on that among various police departments and that the RCMP, which recently signed a 20-year-contract with the province, maintains their force is serving communities well.

Attorney General Shirley Bond said the government will work with local governments to ensure their policing models meet their communities' needs.

"Any change, whether it be regionalization or further integration, has to meet the needs of both our communities and our taxpayers,'' she said in a statement.

Deputy Chief Cst. Doug LePard told the board that Vancouver's department is working on a real-time crime centre, which is a centralized crime-fighting computer facility that would allow police to access investigative information around the clock.

He said that would mitigate structural barriers to communication as cited in Oppal's report.

"Hopefully that will mean some additional support from the provincial government because of course there are some funding challenges to it,'' LePard told the board.

(Vancouver Province, Canadian Press)

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