As Canada’s largest cities begin the process of gathering data around crime during the pandemic, including break-ins and speeding, CBC London took a closer look at what police are observing here.
London’s top cop is not ready yet to say how crime trends have changed but Chief Steve Williams does know calls for service are down and patrols are up.
In an interview on London Morning Thursday, Williams said officers have logged an additional 2,000 hours in key areas of the city where break-and-enters are known to occur.
He said it’s too early to say whether commercial break-ins are on the rise, as police were seeing an increase before the pandemic struck. But Williams notes some people will take advantage of empty storefronts.
“We’ve seen some really good results and we saw a massive dip about two or three weeks ago. And it’s something we need to keep the pressure on,” Williams said.
Some Canadian police forces have been able to gather initial crime data in recent weeks, including Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and York Region police forces which are all reporting increases in business break-ins.
Other forces are also seeing an increase in stunt driving.
Middlesex County OPP have laid 10 stunt driving charges since the start of the month. Elgin County OPP recently clocked someone doing 190 km/h on the 401 over the weekend.
“We have not seen a increase in speeding incidents [in the city],” Williams said, noting speeders like open highways where there’s more opportunity to speed. “But it’s also easier for our officers to pick those speeders off if they’re running a radar.”
There was a major crash April 22 that closed Fanshawe Park Road West and Hyde Park Road for 11 hours. Witnesses said one vehicle was seen travelling at a high rate of speed, slitting the other vehicle in half.
Worried about domestic violence
Williams said he is extremely concerned right now about domestic violence incidents trending upward.
“We know there are vulnerable individuals in the community who are in their homes as a result of this pandemic, and their homes may not be the safest place to be.”
Although police haven’t seen any statistical change in calls for help from troubled homes in recent weeks, Williams said the force has asked its community partners to offer support to women who may need it.
He also hopes that those who might feel endangered will reach out to neighbours or concerned family members.
Uncertain budget implications
If the province’s state of emergency drags on, Williams said the police service may find itself in a deficit situation, particularly if some of its provincial funding isn’t in place.
The police service relies on provincial funding for court security and prisoner transportation, but those costs declined while the downtown courthouse was closed.
Williams said it’s too early to know whether the pandemic will create serious financial challenges for London police, but he is working with the city’s treasurer to help them “get through this”.
The City of London is forecasting a $33 million shortfall by August, which will likely result in a deficit.