It’s been reported that car break-ins reached an eight-year high in 2018, rising 100 percent from 7,266 incidents in 2011 to 14,598 in 2018. Also, neighbourhood numbers for 2019 appear to continue the trend.
What has not been reported is that 2011 also represented the lowest point in a 10-year fall in car break-ins—a 61.28 percent decrease from 18,768 incidents in 2002.
And the number of car break-ins reported to Vancouver police in 2018—eight-year high that it was—was still 22.2 percent lower than the number reported in 2002.
The roller-coaster ride of car break-ins
People expect statistics to unambiguously answer questions but looking at the 17 years of available Vancouver Police Department (VPD) car break-in stats raises far more questions than it answers.
A February 2019 report by the Vancouver Courier on the eight-year high in car break-ins could not explain the increase but it did offer an earlier VPD explanation for the crime—that it was connected to “people looking to steal cash or valuables to exchange for drugs”.
But if street drugs and substance abuse explains the increased frequency of people breaking into cars between 2011 and 2018, what explains the steep fall in such break-ins between 2002 and 2011?
It’s not as if the use and abuse of street drugs in Vancouver only began in 2011, or, for that matter, only began to be a serious problem.
There was already a very serious opioid crisis through the 2000s—with the slow-release opioid analgesic OxyContin playing a villainous role similar to that played by fentanyl today.
If car break-ins are a reflection of street drug use then consider that the year 2002 saw 28.56 percent more car break-ins than 2018.
Canada’s first safe, supervised-injection site opened in Vancouver in 2003 for a reason—there was a lot of opioid use back then.
But car break-ins fell steadily from 2002 to 2011 and it is not at all clear that opioid demand and corresponding street drug use fell during that period at a corresponding rate.
It is true that the scourge of OxyContin as a dangerously-potent street opioid diminished between 2002 and 2011 and that was finally taken out of circulation altogether in 2012 by its maker, Purdue Pharma.
But can the explanation possibly be so simplistic—does the fall in car break-ins just parallel the decline in OxyContin use and does the subsequent resurgence in the crime simply and faithfully mirror the rise of fentanyl?