When Research Co. and Glacier Media last gauged the views of British Columbians on crime in November 2021, 63 per cent of the province’s residents told us that they would feel “safe” walking alone in their own neighbourhood after dark.
Almost half (48 per cent) feared becoming delinquency victims in their community and about one in five (19 per cent) acknowledged having to report a crime to the police, such as an assault or a break-in.
Earlier this month, and with municipal elections looming, the perceptions of residents on these three questions did not budge: 63 per cent of British Columbians would still feel secure wandering about at night, 48 per cent remain afraid of crime affecting their lives and 18 per cent (down one point) had to file a report with the police.
Last June, only six per cent of British Columbians mentioned crime and public safety as the most important issue facing the province. There are four more pressing concerns for residents: the environment (12 per cent), the economy and jobs (also 12 per cent), health care (18 per cent) and, overwhelmingly, housing, poverty and homelessness (39 per cent).
On one of the questions we track, the views of British Columbians have become more negative, going against official statistics. More than half of British Columbians (51 per cent) believe the level of criminal activity in their community has increased over the past four years, up seven points since November 2021. Two groups lead the way in having these feelings. Majorities of women (55 per cent) and British Columbians aged 55 and over (57 per cent) think crime is worse now than in 2018.
Perceptions of worsening public safety are down in Vancouver Island (from 54 per cent seven months ago to 51 per cent now). All other areas of the province saw increases on this question: southern B.C. at 62 per cent (up nine points), northern B.C. at 51 per cent (up seven points), Metro Vancouver at 49 per cent (up eight points) and the Fraser Valley at 45 per cent (up six points).
For a majority of British Columbians (51 per cent, up three points), addiction and mental health issues are to blame “a great deal” for the current state of affairs related to criminal activity in the province. Fewer residents direct their frustration at gangs and the illegal drug trade (37 per cent, down one point), poverty and inequality (32 per cent, up one point), an inadequate court system (also 32 per cent, up two points), lack of values and an improper education for youth (27 per cent, unchanged), bad economy and unemployment (24 per cent, up four points), insufficient policing and a lack of resources to combat crime (22 per cent up two points) and immigrants and minorities (eight per cent, down one point).
Shortly after the federal government introduced new gun control legislation, sizable proportions of British Columbians continue to endorse two measures to curb criminal activity in their municipality: banning military-style assault weapons (82 per cent, down two points) and banning handguns (75 per cent, down four points).
This month, we also asked British Columbians about three ideas that have been outlined over the past few months. In late April, an all-party special committee in the legislative assembly issued its report on Reforming the Police Act. One of its 11 recommendations was establishing a B.C.-wide police force that would replace the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
The province’s residents are divided on this prospect, with 39 per cent agreeing with the creation of a new province-wide police force, 38 per cent disagreeing and 23 per cent undecided. Support for this proposal is highest in northern B.C. (45 per cent, followed by the Fraser Valley (43 per cent, Vancouver Island (also 43 per cent, Metro Vancouver (40 per cent and southern B.C. (26 per cent).
The notion of “defunding the police” – divesting funds from police departments and reallocating them to non-policing forms of public safety and community support – has become a topic of discussion in several cities across the United States. At this point, almost half of British Columbians (49 per cent agree with this concept – with support surging to 61 per cent among those aged 18 to 34 and to 66 per cent among BC Green Party voters in the last provincial election.
The most popular of the three ideas is increasing the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in communities as a means of surveillance to help deter and solve crimes. Seven in 10 British Columbians (70 per cent) agree with this concept, a proportion that rises to 79 per cent among BC Liberal voters in 2020.
Our latest survey shows a province where most residents have not experienced crime firsthand and where feelings about local safety are unchanged. Still, perceptions about a worsening situation are on the rise and residents are open to proposals. At this point, the enhanced presence of cameras on our streets is providing a level of comfort that is not matched by the promise of a province-wide police force or the reallocation of funds to non-policing community support.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from July 4 to July 6, 2022, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.