Crime is on the rise in Port Alberni, but this is the trend across Vancouver Island as a whole, according to Port Alberni RCMP Officer-in-Charge Brian Hunter.
Hunter delivered what may have been his final quarterly report to city council on Monday, Oct. 28. He announced back in August of this year that he has accepted a new position in Penticton and will be leaving the City of Port Alberni after three years as its officer-in-charge.
Hunter said on Monday that he has enjoyed his time in Port Alberni, both personally and professionally.
“There’s a lot of work to do here, and working with community partners like yourselves has been outstanding,” he told council. “It’s an opportunity and I’m very excited about it, but it’s going to be a very emotional departure from Port Alberni. We’ve made a lot of great progress at the detachment.”
In his report, he explained that the detachment received 4,262 calls for service between July and September of this year, which is an increase of 14 percent over the same quarter last year. Part of this is due to a change in crime reporting to Statistics Canada. With these new numbers, violent crimes are up 47 percent in Port Alberni, but are up 75 percent across Vancouver Island.
“We’re bucking the trend,” Hunter surmised, although he added it will take another year to know the real numbers.
Property crime, meanwhile, is up 30 percent in Port Alberni. Part of this is due to the fact that thefts from vehicles have “skyrocketed” from 39 to 92.
“These criminals walk up and down the street lifting door handles,” explained Hunter. “If the vehicle is unlocked, they’re going in there and taking what they can. It’s really a crime that we can prevent as community residents.”
He suggested establishing a nightly routine, where residents check to make sure that their vehicles are locked before going to bed.
The community also suffered from a “spate” of break-and-enters in August that were committed mostly by one individual. James Jones was arrested in September and is facing 24 charges related to commercial break-and-enters, although Hunter suspects that there were more. Jones is scheduled to appear in court again on Oct. 30.
But property crime is not only a Port Alberni problem. The numbers are up 32 percent across Vancouver Island as a whole.
“Property crime is a symptom of addictions,” explained Hunter. “I think we all know that the country is suffering in regards to opioid addictions.”
He added that the RCMP detachment will continue to work with other community services, such as Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s Quu’asa Program and the detachment’s new Indigenous Safety Team.
“It’s just a matter of getting them out of that cycle,” he said.
Hunter also warned the community about interacting with criminals, after a recent case where a man named Cory Smith barricaded himself in an administrative office in Save-On-Foods. Despite multiple officers, tasers and a police dog, RCMP members struggled to defuse the situation.
“This person did not feel any pain whatsoever,” Hunter emphasized. “It’s very dangerous to interact with a person like that. You don’t know who you’re dealing with out there.”
Councillor Cindy Solda wanted to know how many crimes were being committed by “transients,” rather than local residents. Hunter responded that the majority of crimes are from locals, although Smith was a “one-off” from outside of the community.
Hunter received a round of applause from the room after his report, and mayor and council expressed their appreciation for his time at the detachment.
“If we are bucking the trend in any of these statistics, it’s due to your leadership and the hard work of our RCMP detachment,” said Councillor Debbie Haggard.
Hunter is currently waiting for his house to sell, after which he will complete the transfer to Penticton. The Port Alberni RCMP detachment is in the process of looking for a new officer-in-charge.