BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Perception and reality

Many of us go about our daily lives wandering downtown Vernon or walking between the parking lot and shops. Parks are enjoyed, lawns are mowed and kids are taken to school.

Through all of this, rarely are we a victim of crime or the witness of an offence.

But soon after Statistics Canada released the latest crime severity index for Vernon, social media went wild with claims that the community isn’t safe.

“It’s getting out of control and the city is doing nothing about it. I’d like to know how many of these drug addicts/thieves actually are from Vernon? Give them a one-way ticket back to where they came from,” stated one person on Facebook.

“We moved here a year ago from Calgary. I felt safer in Calgary,” added another.

Now to be fair, the crime severity index shows 5,028 Criminal Code offences in 2016, 343 incidents higher than the 4,685 recorded in 2015.

A total of 734 violent crimes were recorded in 2016, a 12.28 per cent jump over crimes recorded in 2015. That number works out to a rate of 1,849.33 violent Criminal Code offences per 100,000 people, far higher than the provincial rate of 1,139.34 per 100,000 people.

Absolutely these figures aren’t good but further investigation of the numbers is required.

Rarely is the violence directed towards law-abiding citizens going about their normal activities. Residents aren’t just showing up at the hospital with crime-related violence.

“In 2016, Vernon experienced a number of violent incidents, including three where a firearm was discharged. These incidents, which were linked to the drug trade, would significantly impact the city’s violent crime rating,” said Supt. Jim McNamara, officer in charge of the local RCMP.

The bottom line is that while violence isn’t wished on anyone, some things happen when you are with the wrong folks.

Ultimately, perception appears to be more of the problem than actual reality.

If you see someone an individual or a group hanging out on a corner, you may perceive they are up to no good, but what is that based on? How they are dressed? Their age?

There’s a lot of focus on Polson Park these days, with some residents claiming they don’t feel safe there. Yes, drug deals occur and yes there was a recent shooting, but that’s nothing new. What seems to have changed is the growing number of homeless living in Polson. But being homeless doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. If anything, most of our homeless citizens are trying to survive day by day and are often victimized by the criminal element.

Crime does exist in Vernon but that’s the case with virtually every community big and small. Some of the higher stats could be a direct result of officers doing their job and arresting people.

Is there more the RCMP and the city could be doing to tackle crime? Of course, and there are constant discussions about increasing resources and implementing new strategies. Efforts also include trying to find homes for the homeless.

We, as the public, must have confidence that the authorities are tackling the problem head on, and one way we can help is by not giving into fear.