Meet Vincent Mark Barton, 39, Brian Nicholas Saunders, 50, and William Edward Marshall, 46—poster boys for Vancouver’s plague of property crime. The three “super-chronics” have 406 criminal convictions among them, mostly for thefts to feed their addictions. They are among the worst of a sad lot—379 property offenders who are the focus of the Vancouver Police Department’s chronic offenders program. Altogether they account for a crime wave that
would put entire towns to shame: 26,755 “police contacts” and 12,418 charges—an average of 33 charges per person, says an analysis of property crime and sentencing (or lack of it) released last week by Chief Jim Chu.
Chu is pressing governments—and the courts—to stop the revolving door that spills these offenders out of jail and onto the streets. He calls it “a failure that would never be allowed to stand at any time in our history in any other place in the world other than Vancouver.” The department’s analysis uncovered an amazing paradox: the more crimes committed, the lower the sentences. After 10 convictions, 25 per cent served one day in jail, and 87 per cent served six months or less. After 30 convictions the sentences were even shorter. The situation, says Chu, “has reached ludicrous proportions.”
Police estimated one super-chronic with a $240,000-a-year crack habit would need to steal at least $1.2 million in property, because stolen goods are fenced for a fraction of their value. The more likely estimate of his cost to the public in 2006: $5 million, and 4,000 victims. Some U.S. jurisdictions impose heavy sentences after three convictions. Chu is proposing a softer Canadian version: “30 strikes and you’re out.” Even at that he’s been accused of being too harsh. “Take a Valium, chief,” advised a columnist for the Vancouver Sun. M
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