Serial criminals a drain on police resources

Delta Police Chief Const. Jim Cessford says the way the justice system treats chronic offenders needs to change.   - File photo
Delta Police Chief Const. Jim Cessford says the way the justice system treats chronic offenders needs to change.
— image credit: File photo

[Editor's note – This story has been modified from its original version for reasons of privacy. With the exception of the removal of the identity of the first offender in the story, no information has been changed]

A handful of chronic offenders responsible for hundreds of offences in Delta are draining police resources, and the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with them, says Delta’s police chief.

“A lot of these people have concurrent disorders, which is drug addiction combined with mental illness,” said Chief Const. Jim Cessford. “Often they are committing crimes just to stay alive. Putting them in jail doesn’t work, these people need treatment.”

Cessford presented the Delta Police Board with a report this month detailing the issues the local police force is having with a handful of offenders who are responsible for hundreds of crimes.

One chronic offender, a 26-year-old man from Tsawwassen, has already had 70 criminal charges laid against him, the majority for property crimes to support his daily drug habit of crack and methamphetamine, which incarceration has done little to deter.

“Upon release from prison, [he] often enters rehabilitation for a few days, relapses and goes on a drug binge and crime spree,” the report states.

In October of last year, this offender made headlines after police caught him breaking into a home on Jackson Way in Tsawwassen. Police arrived, and the man, high on drugs at the time, stripped off his shirt and told police officers to shoot him. He then produced a knife and stabbed himself in the neck and chest.

After barricading himself in a room, Delta Police were forced to use a Taser to subdue and take him into custody.

The incident occurred months after the death of his 16-year-old girlfriend, who was stabbed by a 17-year-old male at Tsawwassen First Nation.

“The sad thing is, that while under the influence of drugs or suffering from some sort of acute mental illness, the subjects we deal with are often unpredictable and a higher level of force has to be used to solve the situation,” Cessford said of the incident at the time.

The report details another chronic offender has had more than 40 charges brought against him despite being only 20 years old, “primarily for mental health issues, causing a disturbance, and non-compliance with court orders.”

The report notes the individual suffers from schizophrenia and has admitted he hears voices and has hallucinations.

Considered violent and suicidal, his condition is exacerbated by his heavy use of injected crystal meth.

A North Delta man in his late 40s has had 142 charges brought against him since the age of 19. Since moving to Delta in 2009, the chronic offender and drug user has had more than 70 run-ins with local police. The report details how thefts matching the offender’s modus operandi within 1.5 km of his residence dropped by close to 97 per cent while he was incarcerated.

“If we see a spike, we’ll check to see if our chronic offenders are out, and sure enough, they’ll be out,” said Cessford. “We’ll target them again and put them back in jail, and the cycle continues.”

But jail doesn’t provide the kind of treatment chronic offenders with concurrent disorders require, according to Cessford, and locking them up and throwing away the key isn’t the answer.

While the report concludes that there are no simple solutions to the issue of chronic offenders, it does note the traditional punitive approach, including longer prison sentences is very costly and does not solve root causes of criminal activity.

“An evidence-based treatment approach would include mandatory treatment specific to the needs of the offender whether in-custody or through a community-based model,” the report states.

“The cost to put people in jail is prohibitive, and it isn’t working,” said Cessford. Money saved by not prosecuting and jailing chronic offenders could be better used to create treatment facilities and long-term support programs for when they are back living in the community. The report notes that prison is the most expensive approach to managing offenders and with the Canadian prison system costing over $4 billion dollars per year, there is a need to evaluate the current approach to chronic offenders.

In contrast, the report notes that the state of Texas has recently undergone changes within its justice system to move away from incarceration and towards supported release programs.

“Faced with a potential $2 billion dollar cost to build an additional 17,000 prisoner beds, which were required to meet growing incarcerated populations, a greater emphasis was instead placed on probation strategies and programs,” the report states. “It had been concluded that incarceration was not effective at reducing crime, and a shift in thinking was necessary to avoid the massive and ever increasing capital expenditure associated with building more jails. Instead of building more prisons, money in Texas was filtered into probation strategies that focused on evidence-based supervision and treatment practices, with the aim of reducing recidivism and ultimately the number of prisoners within the system.”

Cessford says he would like to see a similar approach taken here in B.C., but that will require the cooperation of all levels of government, and a variety of public health and safety organizations.

“If we pull together, we can ensure these people get the help they need,” Cessford said. “And we’ll all be better off.”

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