High property crime rate likely linked to drug use and economy: prof

Data shows Calgary's rate of reported property crimes jumped 50%, coinciding with the province's oil slump and opioid crisis.

Data shows rate jumped 50%, coinciding with oil slump and opioid crisis

The rate of reported property crime has stayed high for the past three years, which researchers believe is connected to increased drug use and the economic slump in Calgary. (Surrey RCMP )

Drug use and economic struggles in Calgary are likely keeping the local property crime rate high, a new public policy report has found.

University of Calgary researchers found the number of reported property crimes — vehicle theft, break and enters and robberies — spiked more than 50 per cent since the start of 2015 and have stayed consistently high ever since.

The connection isn't definite but economics professor Ron Kneebone suggests the correlation is strong between the city's crime rate and economic struggles and drug use.

"To investigate this issue, we chose to define crimes associated with criminals trying to access money and see whether the number of those crimes is correlated with the state of the economy or the prevalence of drug use," Kneebone said in a release.

Ron Kneebone is an economics professor with the school of public policy at the University of Calgary. (University of Calgary)

The crimes spike at the same time as Calgary was hit with the recession in reaction to slumping oil prices and subsequent downturn in Alberta's energy sector that included oilpatch layoffs, he said.

But the economy has improved — and property crime reports haven't.

"It's stayed high so that makes me think it's not so much the recession, although I'm sure that played some sort of role, but I think it's something else," he told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

"My suspicion is it's drug use and the fact that people who are addicted to drugs have to resort to crime in order to pay for their habit."

Opioid crisis

The spike in property crime correlates with deaths from fentanyl use more than tripling in 2015 from 2014, according to Alberta Health Services data. The province has been dealing with an opioid crisis in the years that followed.

The school compared six years of publicly available data on property crimes, such as break and enters and theft, released monthly by the Calgary Police Service.

Fentanyl pills are shown in an undated police handout photo. Alberta has seen a steep increase in the number of overdoses in recent years. (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams/The Canadian Press)

In the three years before the recession and opioid crisis, Calgary had an average of fewer than 1,500 property crimes reported each month.

After January 2015, that average jumped above 2,000 monthly property crimes. On occasion, the monthly reports spike above 2,500, police data shows.

This graph shows the jump in monthly property crimes, based on data released publicly by the Calgary Police Service. (University of Calgary School of Public Policy)

Kneebone published the report with economist Margarita Wilkins on Wednesday morning. The team plans to continue its research by looking into the potential impact of drug prices on crime.

Long-term research has shown sudden economic downturns, increased drug use and high drug prices all can impact property crime rates.​

However, Kneebone clarified in a statement to media Wednesday that he has learned from Calgary police since the report was released that drug prices have moderated since 2015.

He speculates that this shows it is not necessarily the high price of drugs but more widespread use that is leading to increases in crime.

Kneebone recommends people in Calgary remember to lock their doors and vehicles to reduce crimes of opportunity.

Calgary police have allocated more resources in recent years to such issues, including to car thefts specifically.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Rachel Ward


Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.