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Opinion: Police call volumes paint only part of the picture

Call volume numbers down, Criminal Code charges up. What does it mean?
Estevan Police Service vehicle door
The Estevan Police Service recently released call volume numbers for 2022.

Each month, the Estevan Police Service releases its crime statistics – a look at the number of calls they handle each month.

The incidents that result in criminal charges – crimes against people, crimes against property, Criminal Code traffic violations and drug offences – are listed in detail. And then the EPS cites the total number of calls for service for the month and year.

We also get to see the number of calls from the previous year, and this past year, the EPS started comparing the numbers from the past five years, giving a little bit more information on the activity levels.

The numbers for 2022 show an interesting picture. The calls for service were down more than 28 per cent from 2021, a staggering amount. Yet the total number of Criminal Code offences was up. Crimes against the person increased. So did crimes against property. Drug offences were stable, and Criminal Code traffic offences were down, thanks largely to a decline in the number of impaired driving cases.

How you interpret these numbers will depend on your priorities. If the focus iis on crime, then you might be a little worried. The total number of Criminal Code charges was up. Not by a lot, but there was an increase. The number of drug possession charges was down, which would be surprising to some, but the number of trafficking charges increased.

If you’re concentrating on the overall picture, then you’ll be looking at the total calls for service. Those who want to see fewer members of the EPS will use this as ammunition.

One does have to wonder how the total activity could be down so much. Does it reflect a change in priorities for the EPS? Were there fewer speeding tickets and other traffic violations that would reduce the number? Were there fewer scam calls? (Those who have been pestered numerous times by someone claiming to be with Amazon or the Canada Revenue Agency would have a hard time believing this).

Did we just behave better than last year? Is the reduction in call volumes reflective of a lower population base? We know that the city isn’t hopping like it was a decade ago, but we didn’t see a 28.7 per cent decrease in residents from 2021 to 2022

Police Chief Rich Lowen noted that the EPS is going to start sending out more detailed reports on call for service numbers. These won’t only include the crime numbers, but they will include other police data as well, with everything from conditions checks to traffic enforcement, and how they compare with the five-year average.

It will be interesting to see how things stack up, and if there has been a change in the way in which the calls for service are recorded. There is a lot of work the police do that won’t show up in crime numbers or calls for service.

What we choose to do with these numbers is ultimately up to us. We can take them, study them and try to find trends in the community. We can ignore them, or decide to look at them when we have more time on our hands.

Credible data is ultimately the key to an informed opinion.

The fact that crimes against property were up last year shouldn’t be a surprise. Estevan’s non-violent crime severity index was at a low level in 2021, so an uptick was likely inevitable. Crimes against the person were up, thanks largely to a jump in the number of assaults.

As for impaired driving, well, that’s one category that we can all be happy is down. While there are always going to be people apprehended for driving while impaired – be it by drugs or alcohol – it appears that more and more people are getting the message about the risks of driving while impaired. Hopefully, this number continues to go down.

But regardless of whether you’re looking at Criminal Code charges or overall calls for service, we should feel safe in this community.

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