Crime in Saskatchewan changed with COVID-19. Police chiefs explain why
The full effects of the pandemic have yet to be fully explored, but Saskatchewan’s law enforcement saw many trends build off the worldwide event.
“What we did see, almost immediately, was some of the issues within our community related to public safety changed,” said Saskatoon Police Service chief Troy Cooper.
He said we aren’t at a place yet where we can safely look back and examine the total impact of the pandemic, adding that we are still navigating through social and economic changes.
Cooper said some of the changes seen in crime patterns make it a little easier to draw a direct line to the pandemic than others.
He said fraud moved from being in-person to something you had to watch for online, and break-and-enters saw a drop in homes, but an increase in compounds.
He suggested the effects of the pandemic will reverberate throughout society for some time.
“When people are pushed further into marginalization, that makes it more and more difficult for them to get stable housing, for them to get treatment for addictions,” Cooper said.
Regina Police Service Chief Evan Bray agrees, noting many of the same trends and issues occurred in the Queen City.
“I think we saw the opportunity for crime to change,” Bray said.
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He said what replaced some of that change was a rise in social issues.
“We saw the number of missing people go up,” he said, adding police also notice a rise in “the number of domestic disputes, suicide attempts, those kinds of things.”
He said the most prominent issue he saw rise was related to drugs.
“Overdoses in 2020, ’21, ’22, and already in ’23 are trending continually at an alarming rate.”
Bray said many of these same issues have not gone away.
He said people who may not be criminals and may not be victims of crime are calling the police because they are having some sort of crisis.
“Really, the key to success in trying to help people through these challenges is not trying to do it by ourselves. Often these social challenges are not things that the Regina Police Service is equipped to handle alone. So we are lucky to benefit from the partnerships of numerous community and government agencies that help us deal with people who have social issues.”
Alexis Peters, a sociology professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary and a registered nurse who specializes in mental health, stressed the need for more community-minded efforts.
“I don’t see this ending quickly unless we make a concentrated effort to really get people back into a sense of community,” Peters said.
She said there is a need for some intensive research into the effects of the pandemic, noting it has had negative effects on many.
“The isolation, the loneliness, not even knowing how to function during that difficult time. You can only imagine then if you were already disadvantaged, not privileged, how difficult that would be.”
She said things like food banks were very awkward to try to deal with during the pandemic.
“When people are struggling to survive you’ll be surprised at what they would do in order to try and survive.”
Peters suggested that things aren’t improving as we’ve been coming out of the pandemic.
She said people were starting to struggle with things like loneliness and sleep deprivation before the pandemic hit, adding that exacerbated those issues.
“That lack of social connection, being alone, then you add sleep deprivation to it, and not having a routine, you’re at higher risk for engaging in all forms of violence, because you even forget how to go out and be ‘civil and normal’ anymore.”
Peters said issues like jobs and shelter still need to be addressed, saying that could help prevent these issues before they even start, but noted that rudeness, lack of civility and meanness have been on the rise.
She said these trends, along with other issues that contribute to people still being stuck in a rut, will continue until there’s a concentrated effort to address them.
Peters said we need to find ways to re-instill finding meaning in life for people, as well as to educate people on violence and how to deal with anger.
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