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Vancouver crime rate plummets with help Add to ...

Property crime has taken a five-year nosedive in Vancouver and police give much of the credit to help that's available to those who are homeless, drug addicted and mentally ill.

Deputy Chief Constable Warren Lemcke told a crime seminar Monday that on average, the property crime rate went down by 40 per cent between 2004 and 2009.

But other crime statistics dropped even more dramatically during that time, including a 66-per-cent drop in theft from motor vehicles and a 49-per-cent cut in break and enter to residences.

Deputy Chief Lemcke said support for people on the fringes of society has been a major part of the solution to some crimes that have plagued the city.

"It's key to getting support for people that need it and to getting them inside, getting them warm, getting them food so that they're not having to do crime to survive."

He said the city and province have done a good job of getting the homeless into heated shelters.

Just two years ago, Deputy Chief Lemcke said he would come into work through the city's Downtown Eastside and see homeless people huddled on the sidewalk and trying to sleep in the rain.

"You don't see that any more, or very rarely now," he said.

The other aspect to the drop in the crime rate is support through a series of police community programs that target crime, Deputy Chief Lemcke said.

Programs such as Operation Co-operation, Safer Parking Initiative, Project Griffin and Bar Watch keep chipping away at the crime rate, he said.

Bar Watch involves an initiative of restaurant and bar owners to keep known gang members out of their establishments.

Sgt. Randy Regush told the seminar that gang members don't like to see a Bar Watch sticker on a business because they know they'll be refused service.

"The benefits are there have been zero shootings for months in the downtown entertainment district," Sgt. Regush said.

Deputy Chief Lemcke agreed that an added calm to the city's gang war came after numerous recent arrests of high-profile gangsters.

"We're enjoying that," he said.

As for violent crime, Deputy Chief Lemcke said it has dropped by about five per cent in the same five-year period.

Project Griffin, based on a British anti-terrorism program to improve public safety, has helped to increase awareness about property crime.

The program increases awareness about such crimes with businesses and security firms and gives them information on how to help police catch the criminals.

But there is much more work to be done in reducing the crime rate, especially when it comes to chronic offenders, Deputy Chief Lemcke said.

"There's no way that somebody should be walking around on the street with 130 convictions and still doing crime," he said. "Something needs to be done there."

Vancouver's police department released a report last year drawing attention to the sentencing patterns for chronic offenders by highlighting three case studies.

One so-called super chronic offender had over 80 convictions involving property theft because he needed to steal about $1.2 million in goods every year to support his crack addiction.

Another man had over 150 convictions since 1985.

The report said that for 25 per cent of the convictions judges imposed custodial sentences of one day, while fewer than seven per cent of the convictions earned criminals a jail term of more than a year.

Deputy Chief Lemcke said some progress has been made with the courts handing down tougher sentences to chronic offenders.

"But then again, in this city, chronic is somebody who's been charged with 12 offences in a calendar year," he said.

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