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Technology and you can combat rising crime in Newmarket

Downtown Newmarket's draw as a hub where people like to be may be contributing to rising crime, York Regional Police #1 District Supt. Mike Slack says

If you’ve been following local news coverage here and elsewhere, you know that crime is ticking upward in York Region.

Overall, York Regional Police say its year-to-date criminal and non-criminal workload sits at just over 3 per cent higher compared to the same period in 2017.

The nine municipalities that make up York Region remain among the safest places in Canada in which to live, according to the November release of Maclean’s Magazine’s annual survey, Canada’s Most Dangerous Places 2019.

That report, which evaluates a community’s safety using Statistics Canada police-reported crime data, ranks York Region the 199th safest place in the country out of the 237 studied.

The number and seriousness of reported crimes over a five-year period are crunched to develop a community’s crime severity index (CSI). The lower the number, the safer the city. York Region’s CSI is 37. To put that in perspective, Canada’s average CSI is 73.

But in Newmarket’s bustling community of about 90,000, York police reported a 21 per cent increase so far this year alone in violent crime against persons, such as assault, robbery and theft, which take the lion’s share of the 1,747 calls for service it received. Year-to-date in Newmarket, crime is up overall by 10 per cent, and 16 per cent over five years.

In the past 15 days, there have been four incidents of assault level 1, the most common type that cause little to no harm to the victim, 10 crimes against property, including shoplifting and thefts from vehicles, and seven quality-of-life crimes, which include alcohol and drug impairment, mischief to property, and disputes involving uttering death threats, according to the York police real-time online crime map.

In its 2019 budget priorities, York police aim to hire four new officers for its #1 District criminal investigations bureau, which serves Newmarket, Aurora, Schomberg, Nobleton, King, and East Gwillimbury.

So, what could be the possible reasons for the strain on police resources in Newmarket, specifically?

“Newmarket is becoming the central hub of where people like to go when they go out,” York Regional Police #1 District Supt. Mike Slack said. “It’s not so much the population growth within the town itself, but it’s the growth in the communities around Newmarket. People are coming from all over into our downtown and it contributes to the demand for service, more than our population alone would contribute.”

Since firing up its business intelligence tool in 2017 designed with the help of the United States software developer Information Builders, Supt. Slack said the force is now at the forefront of crime-fighting.

“This technological tool has generated interest from police services across the province,” Supt. Slack said. “It allows the force to become more efficient by directing resources where the data is telling us it’s needed.”

The dashboard monitor is affixed to a boardroom wall at #1 District’s Prospect Street headquarters, and a mountain of data rolls in by the second.

York police’s senior commanders, such as Supt. Slack, can see in real-time which officers are on high-stress calls, the number and type of possible crimes being investigated, how many tickets were so far issued, and even the languages other than English spoken by officers on duty which, on this particular day, were Jamaican Patois, French and Spanish.

“If we see an up-ticking trend we can direct our resources to those areas,” Supt. Slack said. “It helps us to understand what’s really going on and helps us to prioritize where we need to be.”

Front-line officers also have access to the wealth of data in their vehicles to help better prepare them for what the shift ahead may bring, Supt. Slack said.

“At any given time, you can see exactly what’s happening and where in Newmarket, and the other municipalities in the region,” said Supt. Slack. “You know such things as how many officers are doing community engagement, how many are proactive and available, how many are on calls and how many are on administrative duty.”

It’s such a proactive and effective policing tool that Police Services Board member and Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua mused at a recent board meeting if it could somehow be copyrighted and sold to other police services as a way to generate new revenue.

While the technology is a powerful tool to monitor what’s happening in the community and improve the response to it, the police need the public to tell them what’s going on.

“I encourage everyone to report all crime, regardless of how small they believe it to be,” Supt. Slack said. “If you’re the victim of a theft, you still feel victimized. It doesn’t matter if somebody’s stolen a gnome out of your garden or your laptop, the emotion is still the same.

“I don’t want you to feel safe, I want you to be safe.”

To report a crime online, visit the York Regional Police website. Always call 9-1-1 in an emergency, and to reach York police for a non-emergency call for service, call 1-866-876-5423.

To see neighbourhood-level crime as it happens in Newmarket and throughout York Region, visit the crime map.