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Stranger attacks were declining in Vancouver before the B.C. government took actions it now claims are 'working'

This screen grab, from a video the Vancouver Police Department released in December of 2022, shows what was described as an unprovoked stranger attack in Gastown – one of many police publicized that year. This screen grab, from a video the Vancouver Police Department released in December of 2022, shows what was described as an unprovoked stranger attack in Gastown – one of many police publicized that year.
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A 75 per cent decrease in stranger attacks in Vancouver was touted as a sign that the B.C. NDP's "actions are working" by the premier following this week's speech from the throne. But that decline was already well and steadily underway long before the province stepped in.

Data from the Vancouver Police Department, obtained by CTV News last year, showed the average number of stranger attacks recorded in the city had fallen from 4.5 per day in the first half of 2021 down to 1.8 per day in the first half of 2022 – a decrease of 60 per cent. By mid-2023, the rate had decreased even further, to 0.6 per day.

That was before the province launched its Safer Communities Action Plan in November of 2022 after commissioning an in-depth study that evidently failed to uncover this positive, downward trend.

Asked about which actions the province has taken that impacted the rate of these alarming attacks in B.C.'s largest city, the Public Safety Ministry pointed to the action plan saying it is "strengthening enforcement to keep those who commit repeat violent offences off B.C. streets and leveraging and integrating services to connect people with the supports they need."

One of the prongs of this plan is funding for the Special Investigation and Targeted Enforcement program, a ministry spokesperson said in an email.

This $16 million program "provides operational funding to enhance police capacity for investigating repeat offender cases, and support more effective and coordinated prioritizing and information-sharing across jurisdictions," the statement said.

The VPD has applied for and secured funding on six occasions. One example provided was an investigation that began in June of 2023 into two stranger attacks on elderly women.

"VPD successfully secured SITE funding which enabled the deployment of additional police resources to identify and apprehend the two offenders, who are now awaiting disposition for robbery and assault charges," the email from the ministry said.

In late-2023, a report to the Vancouver Police Board noted a "steady decline" in these random attacks since 2021, and offered a brief explanation for the apparent downturn in cases – which is attributed to factors seemingly outside of the control of the police department or the provincial government.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was less pedestrian traffic and fewer guardians or bystanders which can contribute to increased opportunities for violence," the report said.

"This was further exacerbated by mental health pressures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes resulting in violent interactions between strangers. The return of pre-pandemic daily routines has now led to more pedestrians and increased guardianship within public spaces."

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