'Important initial step': B.C. commissions study into prolific offenders

The British Columbia government says it's launching an independent, short-term study into repeat criminal offenders in B.C., which will guide the province's plans to curb escalating chronic crime and random attacks.

The study will be led by Doug LePard – former Vancouver Police Department deputy chief and former Metro Vancouver Transit police chief – and Amanda Butler, a criminologist and health researcher with a focus on mental health, substance-use disorders, criminal justice systems and prison health, according to the province.

LePard and Butler will investigate the causes of increasing chronic crime and random assaults, particularly in urban downtown areas, and will provide the province with recommendations on how to confront the two issues.

The study will take 120 days, though the province says it will accept recommendations before the end of the study period if the investigators find there's steps that can be taken immediately.

"[This] is an important initial step in a very complex issue," said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

B.C. URBAN MAYORS CAUCUS

In April, a group of B.C. mayors wrote to B.C. Attorney General David Eby saying they were grappling with repeat offences from the same people.

"It's highly visible, and highly disturbing to many people," said Eby on Thursday.

The attorney general says the province is looking at steps it can take in the short-term to address chronic offenders, such as allowing courts to order real time electronic monitoring of those identified as chronic offenders.

Farnworth says the province needs to be "creative" in its approach to escalating property crime, as it works within the federal government's framework of least restrictive conditions for people who have been arrested.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who is co-chair of the B.C. Urban Mayors Caucus, says she's grateful for the province's upcoming study.

The 13 communities that make up the caucus found that "200 people had 11,000 police interactions in one year," according to Helps.

"That is obviously a significant issue and that is why we're here today," she said.

B.C.'s public safety minister says it will take efforts from local police, the provincial government, prosecutors, and mental health workers to address this shift in crime, which began during the pandemic.

"People have a right to feel safe in their homes, businesses, and on British Columbia's streets," said Farnworth.

He adds that the province is looking at ways to support offenders who may suffer from mental health or addictions to get them "what they need to break the cycle."

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, who co-chairs the BCUMC, says local businesses and residents are frustrated with the "catch and release" judicial system, noting that his municipality's police budget has increased by 84 per cent since 2016.

"At the end of the day, the enforcement approach only is not working," he said.

"We know that people aren't going to get the care that they need or make the changes in their lives that they need in prison," he added.

"This is an important step to getting people the help that they need [while] also restoring a sense of safety to our communities."