There are a relatively small number of people who are responsible for a high volume of property crime and associated public disorder.
There are a large number of police interactions with people committing offences such as shoplifting, mischief, possession of stolen property, possession of drugs, and breaching previous orders.
This has resulted in frustration and a recent letter from BC Urban Mayors complaining about this issue.
The people repeatedly committing offences of the kind described are most often mentally ill, homeless, and addicted to drugs.
Someone in this circumstance is likely to commit offences on an almost continuous basis to get money to purchase drugs.
They will shoplift things to sell, break into cars, homes, and businesses, sell small amounts of drugs to others, and engage in prostitution.
This behaviour causes a great deal of social disorder, impacts many innocent people, and is expensive to deal with.
The solutions to these legitimate concerns have not, however, been identified by the BC Urban Mayors. They have suggested that the problem could be solved by stricter bail conditions, a lower charge approval standard, or exempting police from needing to provide Crown Counsel with all the evidence they have collected in a timely way.
Having mentally ill drug addicts spend more time in jail for the property crimes they commit will not solve the problem. A jail sentence does not cure mental illness or drug addiction. At the end of each jail sentence, the person is released back onto the street to continue the cycle of drug use and offending.
The Urban Mayors further claim that “The solution is not for municipalities to keep adding safety resources – we have been doing that, which has come at the cost of other essential services, programs and infrastructure in our communities.”
One program that has met with some success in reducing the impact of prolific offenders has been the Assertive Community Treatment Program. It involves teams of social workers, police, and mental health professionals assertively monitoring and intervening with prolific offenders often on a daily basis.
A recent request for funding of two additional police officers to work on ACT teams was refused by the municipality of Esquimalt, along with a request for several additional police officers to work in other capacities.
In the City of Victoria, the police department is widely acknowledged to be short-staffed and stretched to deal with high call volumes.
Adequate police resources are not a complete solution, but it is necessary.
In British Columbia, the provincial Offence Act provides authority to compel chronic alcoholics to undertake treatment. The scheme involves a physician certifying someone as being in need of treatment and a judge confirming the certification after 72 hours.
The scheme, which is now fallen into disuse because of the absence of actual treatment facilities, might be a model for people who are addicted to drugs and engaged in repeated criminal activity to support this.
The first step to permit something like this would be to create secure treatment facility spaces to treat people suffering from drug addiction, which is commonly combined with other mental health challenges.
Additionally, as has already been proposed by the provincial government, the provision of drugs to people who are addicts would both reduce overdose deaths and the large volume of property crimes committed to get money to purchase drugs.
It makes no sense to address drug addiction and mental illness by repeatedly prosecuting people for shoplifting or for breaching conditions ordering them not to possess drugs.