Is Langley City a crime-ridden, dangerous community?
The short answer is no, or at least, it is much less dangerous than a recent release of statistics by the Vancouver Police Department suggests.
The longer answer involves misplaced murders and the complicated questions of how to apply statistics on crime and policing.
Earlier this week, the VPD report identified Langley, and Langley City in particular, as the new crime capital of the Metro Vancouver region.
A Statistics Canada report ranks it ninth in the nation overall.
However, confusion over Langley Township and Langley City seems to have driven up the numbers considerably.
The Langleys share a single RCMP detachment, but crime stats were compiled for the communities separately.
At some point, said Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, it appears the two murders in Langley in 2011, both of which took place in the Township, were attributed to the City.
With its small population of 27,000 people, two murders created a huge increase in the Crime Severity Index, a weighted ranking that gives different “points” to different violent crimes, such as assault, theft, or murder.
According to Langley RCMP Supt. Derek Cooke, a murder has a points value in the Crime Severity Index (CSI) of 7,042. A break and enter counts for 187 and a theft under $5,000 is 37 points.
Adding two murders to a small town’s stats would drive it up considerably.
The City’s overall CSI ranking of 153.3 should more properly be in the range of about 101, Cooke said in a letter. That would place Langley City below Vancouver and Surrey in Metro Vancouver rankings of general crime.
Putting the murders back in the Township would send its rating higher, but with its larger population of 107,000, it has only about 25 per cent of the impact on the Township’s stats as the murders have on the City’s.
Langley Township saw two murders in 2011. The slaying of Kwantlen elder George Antone, 71, shocked the reserve on MacMillan Island as well as the wider community of Fort Langley.
At the end of the year, 38-year-old Jeremy Bettan was shot dead in his Walnut Grove driveway.
No arrests have been made in either case.
Fassbender compared the statistical issue to saying there’s been a “100 per cent increase” in an infrequent event.
“One incident, compared to a year previously, means you have a 100 per cent increase,” he said.
In 2010, there were no murders in either Langley, but in 2009, there were four murders. Langley, and neighbouring Abbotsford, have both seen their murder rates either skyrocket or plunge in recent years, largely driven by the gang war of early 2009.
Just because there were no murders in Langley City does not mean there were no violent incidents. Like all communities, police dealt with thefts and assaults.
In March, an apartment building manager was pistol whipped by home invaders. A purse snatcher on a bike knocked a woman to the ground before fleeing.
The same month, three drunken men were found literally lying in a pile outside a downtown sports bar. One man had been stabbed in the neck, although his injuries were not serious.
In February, a teenager was arrested for assault after scuffling with two security guards while allegedly stealing a jacket from the Army and Navy.
In November, a pair of RCMP officers were injured by pepper spray while chasing a suspect in the downtown.
Few of the attacks resulted in serious injuries, but would have showed up as assaults in crime statistics.
The other issue with statistics, suggested by both Fassbender and Cooke, is that good police work can drive up crime stats.
A police force that cracks down on prolific offenders or aggressively targets street-level drug dealers or prostitution will see more charges – and thus an increased crime rate.
Because neither the seller nor the buyer of drugs is likely to report what they’ve been up to, drug deals only generate crime statistics when police get involved. A small number of charges for drug dealing may mean there is very little drug activity, or it may mean there are few arrests.
The mixup with the two Langleys and the murder statistics led to a number of people calling Fassbender Thursday, he said.
“What you end up with is a very false picture of what’s happening on the streets,” he said.
Fassbender suggested that, with the two Langleys being confused so often, one of them should really change its name.
According to the CSI rankings, the most crime-ridden city in Canada is North Battleford, Sask., population 14,000. It comes in third on the violent crime severity index.