Sgt. Mark Smaill is the commander of the Houston RCMP detachment. (File photo)

Sgt. Mark Smaill is the commander of the Houston RCMP detachment. (File photo)

Houston crime rate held stable in 2020

The local crime rate held relatively stable in 2020 compared to the year before, Houston RCMP detachment commander Sergeant Mark Smaill reported to the District of Houston council Feb. 2.

In a series of statistics presented, Smaill noted there were 2,471 calls for service for Houston and Granisle in 2020, less than the 2,727 received in 2019. The vast majority of calls in 2020 — 2115 — came from the Houston area.

And there were 561 Criminal Code of Canada files generated in 2020, one fewer than the 562 Criminal Code of Canada files in 2019.

Property crime dropped two per cent in 2020 from 2019 at 196 incidents while violent crime rose by three per cent to 167 incidents.

In comparison to other smaller communities in the region, using the most recent statistics from 2019, Houston/Granisle had a Criminal Code case load of 59 per officer compared to Burns Lake at 61, Fraser Lake at 31, Fort St. James at 87 and Mackenzie, in the northeast, at 47.

Using population data, the crime rate of 113 per 1,000 people for Houston compared to 111 in Burns Lake, 56 in Fraser Lake, 254 in Fort St. James and 112 in Mackenzie.

Statistics aside, there was one homicide in 2019, a matter that is now before the courts. And there were two homicides in 2020, both of which remain under investigation by officers with the regional serious crimes unit based in Prince George.

There were also two arson files of note in 2020 — one at an empty townhouse unit in Houston and the second on the Morice River Road when a Wet’suwet’en elder’s cabin was destroyed by fire.

Officers continue to work on both files, said Smaill.

Houston RCMP officers also made several significant weapons and drug seizures last year as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented its own series of challenges to policing but no tickets had to be issued for public health order or other violations in 2020.

“Mostly it was in educating people,” said Smaill of various restrictions put in place. “Some people don’t follow the news or were aware.”

“Our job was not made more difficult by people being disrespectful of each other.”

For the fiscal year ending March 31 the detachment, in conjunction with the Houston council, identified road safety/distracted driving and community engagements as priorities with the detachment further zeroing in on crime reduction by reducing substance abuse and reducing the impact of prolific offenders.

This coming fiscal year council has asked the detachment to continue to target drug trafficking, violent crimes and prolific offenders.

One notable statistic comes in the form of the number of officers at the detachment — rising from nine in 2019 to 11 in 2020.

“This had been an ask for a few years and the timing has been right as we have seen an increased call volume over the last three to five years,” said Smaill.

“We have seen a revitalization of some of the rental units in town that were uninhabited for many years. This has increased the availability of affordable rental housing in Houston and has likely increased the population in the community.”

Although the detachment’s strength was increased, the RCMP has also had a separate group in the area for several years, the Community-Industry Response Group, when Wet’suwet’en house groups protested continuing work along the Coastal GasLink pipeline work south of Houston.

The detachment had six officers until 2014 when it merged with the Granisle detachmen, the result being an increase to nine officers based in Houston. The detachment continues to serve Granisle and the RCMP does maintain a community policing office there.

In addition to the police officers, the detachment has two public service employees, one victim services coordinator, two victim service worker volunteers and five guards for its cells.

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