British Columbia

Shooting incidents in Surrey are down — but crime stats need context, criminologist warns

A B.C.-based criminologist is cautioning that crime statistics don’t always tell the full story after Surrey RCMP recently tweeted about a decline in incidents of shots fired.

Surrey RCMP recently tweeted that incidents of shots fired fell by 36 per cent last year

Crime statistics without context don't tell the full story, says Mike Larsen. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

A B.C.-based criminologist is cautioning that crime statistics don't always tell the full story after Surrey RCMP recently tweeted about a decline in shooting incidents last year.

Last week, Surrey RCMP touted on Twitter that the number of incidents where shots were fired in the city decreased by 36 per cent in 2018.

"That statistic does kind of seem to be a bit isolated, and it's hard to actually draw some conclusions just from that," said Mike Larsen, professor and co-chair of the criminology department at Surrey's Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

By comparison, the number of homicides during that same period rose by 25 per cent, from 12 to 15 deaths — something not included in the tweet.

"Neither are the best indicator of overall public safety though," he told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"So, while I applaud any organization or government body for releasing information like that — context matters."

The problem with statistics about crimes like shootings and murders, he explained, is that they are high-profile but relatively rare occurrences.

Surrey RCMP Cpl. Elenore Sturko said the detachment tweeted the statistic because it's information that is not easily found elsewhere and can help shape public perception on gun violence.

"When we have things that we can share that perhaps give the public an idea of the trends that we're seeing in terms of the use of firearms … we want to share that," she said.

Larsen said including comparisons with other municipalities and other types of violent crime paint a much clearer image of the trends.

"Overall public safety in a city the size of Surrey is shaped much more so by things that might not be quite as newsworthy but are much more pervasive: things like assault, overdose deaths, those kinds of things," he said.

Surrey RCMP have been criticized by Mayor Doug McCallum, who says they are not adequately serving the city. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Shootings and gang violence are much more in the public mind, though.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has pledged to replace the city's RCMP force — the largest detachment in the country — in favour of an independent municipal police force. 

"That was a leading issue in the last election," Larsen said. "So you can certainly see that there's incentive for a variety of claims-makers to try and weigh in on that.

The RCMP say a full crime report will be published soon.

A B.C.-based criminologist is cautioning that crime statistics don't always tell the full story after Surrey RCMP recently tweeted about a decline in shootings last year. 5:57

With files from The Early Edition