Selected police-reported crime and calls for service during the COVID-19 pandemic, March to August 2020
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During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 17 police services across Canada reported that selected criminal incidents were down by almost one-fifth (17%) compared with the same period a year earlier. In contrast, the number of calls for service rose 8%, particularly wellness checks, mental health calls and calls to attend domestic disturbances.
When the physical distancing measures that were introduced in mid-March to control the pandemic started easing in May, and businesses, services and public spaces gradually re-opened throughout the summer, the volume of crimes and calls for service began to rise.
Since the start of the pandemic, Statistics Canada has committed to measuring the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives. Examining levels of police-reported crime and calls for service is an important part of understanding the well-being of individuals and communities during this difficult time. This analysis follows the initial release of March to June data in September 2020.
Fewer selected police-reported criminal incidents during the first six months of the pandemic
A special monthly data collection from 17 police services shows that there were 17% fewer criminal incidents for select offences during the first six months of the pandemic compared with the same period one year earlier. Collectively, these police services reported fewer incidents in 12 of the 13 crime types surveyed from March to August. The lone exception was uttering threats by a family member, with police reporting 4% more incidents during the first six months of the pandemic compared with the year before.
These 17 police services are some of the largest nationally and serve over half (59%) of the population of Canada. Nevertheless, these results are not representative of overall police-reported crime in Canada and caution should be exercised when interpreting the findings from this data collection activity. The criminal offences surveyed include several serious offences such as sexual assaults, assaults, robbery and break and enter (see the note to readers for further explanation of the police services and crimes included).
Fewer violent crimes and property crimes reported to the police services during the pandemic
During the early months of the pandemic, the 17 police services reported a 20% decrease in sexual assaults, including those committed by non-family members (-20%) and family members (-13%) compared with the same period a year earlier. The number of reported assaults also declined, including those committed by non-family (-8%) and family members (-3%).
Victimization surveys have shown that rates of reporting to the police are lower for sexual assaults and spousal violence than for other types of crimes. For those experiencing violence, especially within the home, previous releases have shown that accessing services during the pandemic may be more difficult because of restricted contact with networks and sources of formal (schools, counsellors, victim services) and informal (family and friends) support.
With cities and communities shut down and Canadians staying at home, it is perhaps not surprising that police reported a drop in some of the more common types of property crime. Police services in this study reported that shoplifting was down by half (-50%), residential breaking and entering down by one-quarter (-25%) and motor vehicle theft down by nearly one-fifth (-19%) from March to August compared with the same period the year before.
Crime fell in April but then rose as businesses, services and public spaces began re-opening
The police services in this study reported a decline in almost all types of crimes from March to April 2020, when non-essential businesses were closed and most Canadians stayed at home. However, as businesses, services and public spaces began to re-open, police reported that crime increased from April to May (+3%), May to June (+11%) and again from June to July (+12%), with violent crime starting to rise in May and property crime starting to grow in June.
Most types of violent crimes covered by this study increased in May, while property crimes continued to fall. However, in June and July, more violent and property crimes were reported. Although the Ontario Provincial Police were unable to report August data for this release, collectively, the remaining 16 police services reported a 1% decrease in crimes in August.
Calls for service to police up during the first six months of the pandemic compared with the same period a year earlier
Police perform many duties, including responding to events that are directly related to public safety and well-being, even if they are not criminal in nature. These events are referred to as calls for service.
Police services in this study responded to 8% more calls for service from March to August than they did over the same period in 2019. Most notably, police services that were able to report data on calls for service responded to more calls related to general well-being checks (+12%), domestic disturbances (+10%) and mental health-related calls such as responses to a person in emotional crisis or apprehensions under the Mental Health Act (+10%).
Calls to police classified as domestic disturbances or domestic disputes can involve anything from a verbal quarrel to reports of violence at a residence.
More calls for service reported throughout the summer
Looking at the month-to-month trend during the pandemic, police in this study reported a drop in overall calls for service from March to April. However, during this time, well-being checks rose 10%, and the high volume of domestic disturbance calls edged down 1%. Thereafter, calls for service rose by 10% in May, 2% in June and 4% in July (correction), with domestic disturbance and well-being checks rising steadily throughout the summer.
Police involved in enforcing measures related to managing the pandemic
The police, along with by-law and public health officers, have been responsible for enforcing legislation related to containing the pandemic. These included enforcing municipal by-laws, provincial and territorial emergency health acts and the federal Quarantine Act. However, local police do not usually enforce by-laws and the enforcement of provincial or territorial emergency health acts is shared with public health officers. As such, data on these enforcements are a reflection of police involvement and not necessarily the number of occurrences.
From mid-March to July, the 15 police services that provided data on the enforcement of provincial/territorial pandemic-related legislation reported involvement in 14,303 infractions against these acts. Spikes in provincial/territorial pandemic infractions were noted at two periods. The first occurred in April toward the beginning of the pandemic (+250%) and again in July (+18%) when more businesses began to re-open and larger social 'bubbles' were permitted between households (month-to-month comparisons are not made with August due to incomplete data).
To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Canada implemented emergency orders in March 2020 requiring mandatory 14-day quarantine or isolation for all travellers entering Canada. As of August 31, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Agency had sent the RCMP 86,640 high and medium priority referrals with only a small minority requiring a physical police check. Of the 15,960 law enforcement follow-ups conducted by August 31, 2020 that have been reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 47 have resulted in fines for offences under the Quarantine Act, and 2 in court summons for charges laid under the Quarantine Act.
Selected police-reported crime and calls for service during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020 to August 2020 (correction)
Selected police-reported crime and calls for service during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020 to July 2020 (correction)
Note to readers
The Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics is conducting a special survey collection from a sample of police services across Canada to measure the impact of COVID-19 on selected types of crimes and calls for service. In addition, counts of police responses to infractions against municipal by-laws or provincial / territorial acts related to the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic were requested. This report includes findings from March to August 2020 compared with the same period a year earlier. Data will continue to be collected monthly until December 2020 and reported regularly.
This is the second release of this special data collection by Statistics Canada. Please note that data published this September for the March to June period have been revised.
For this reference period of March to August, 17 police services provided data on a voluntary basis. These include: Calgary Police Service, Edmonton Police Service, Halton Regional Police Service, Kennebecasis Regional Police Force, London Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Ottawa Police Service, Regina Police Service, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Saskatoon Police Service, Toronto Police Service, Vancouver Police Department, Victoria Police Department, Waterloo Regional Police Service, Winnipeg Police Service, and York Regional Police.
Police services that responded to this survey serve over half (59%) of the Canadian population. The RCMP, Edmonton Police Service and Winnipeg Police Service were unable to provide calls for service data, therefore, police services providing these data serve one-third (32%) of the Canadian population. At the time of this release, the OPP was unable to provide August data.
Selected crime types include: assaults; sexual assaults; assaults against a peace or public officer, uttering threats; robbery; dangerous operation causing death or bodily harm, impaired driving or impaired driving causing death or bodily harm; breaking and entering; motor vehicle theft; shoplifting; fraud / identity theft / identity fraud, and; failure to comply with order.
Calls for service are defined as calls received by police services that are citizen-generated or officer initiated, and required the tasking of police resources (such as a call to a 9-1-1 emergency line that resulted in the dispatch of an officer).
On April 22, 2021, data for "Calls for service, overdose"; "Calls for service, child welfare check"; "Calls for service, child custody matter – domestic"; and "Total calls for service" for all reference periods were corrected due to an error in the application of selected response categories.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).