RATTAN’S RUMBLE: Only 16% of Surrey residents satisfied at Watts’ handling of crime and public safety: What is the problem

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts
Watts announces on Saturday she won’t run again for mayor.

AN Insights West survey conducted in late March shows that only 16 per cent of Surrey residents are satisfied at the way Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and her councillors have handled crime and public safety. And for as many as 49 per cent of Surrey residents, crime is the most important issue facing the city.

Watts has undoubtedly done a good job in turning Surrey around, and SFU’s leading criminologist Dr. Robert Gordon this week in an interview pointed out: “The whole approach she took will I think have a lasting benefit in Surrey. You can see the place change already.”

BUT Gordon criticized Watts’ parochial approach to the issue of crime and noted that now that she had announced she was not going to run again in the civic election and quite obviously has federal ambitions, in interviews with mainstream media “she switched her discourse and she’s talking now about the region.”

Well, what do you expect from politicians, eh?!

WATTS’ announcement at Saturday’s grand opening of the new City Hall that she was moving on didn’t come as a surprise to our readers, because we wrote last week:

“All kind of rumours are circulating about the possible makeup of Surrey First and the most sensational one is that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts will announce she’s quitting to run for the Conservative Party in a riding in Surrey (now it’s supposed to be South Surrey-White Rock) on Monday, if not earlier, after celebrating the grand opening of the new City Hall (some call it the Palace of Queen Dianne Watts) on Saturday. Councillor Linda Hepner is expected to be declared the mayoral candidate for Surrey First.”

Right now it seems that Linda Hepner, Bruce Hayne and Tom Gill all want to be Surrey First’s mayoral candidate and they have to settle that soon.

Barinder Rasode quit very strategically so that she could position herself well for the mayoral run – and the Insights West poll shows that she has a slightly stronger name recognition among Surrey residents than the three mentioned above.

Brenda Locke will be running for councillor (she made that announcement through The VOICE) but is an independent for now.

And former mayor Doug McCallum is making all kinds of noises – and we will have to wait and see what exactly he wants, though Surrey residents may not want what he wants!

Sources, as I reported last week, also say that Watts wants well-known Surrey Conservative Dr. Allison Patton, a naturopathic physician who co-founded the Mountainview Wellness Centre in Surrey, to run for Council. Patton was interested in running as a Conservative candidate in South Surrey-White Rock.

Tom Gill is expected to face embarrassment and maybe more thanks to a defamation suit filed against him.

So we will have to wait see what all exciting developments take place in the next few months as we head for the civic election in November.

BACK to Surrey’s crime situation, Gordon told me that FIRST of all Surrey, like many other areas of Metro Vancouver, suffers through spikes of activity and a lot of those spikes of activity are related to the illegal drug trade. He added: “If you took drugs out of the mix – and it would be true of most of Metro Vancouver – you probably would find the crime rate would plummet quite dramatically.”

Which brought us to the SECOND point: that crime is a regional issue.

Dr. Robert Gordon
Dr. Robert Gordon Photo courtesy of Scrivener magazine

Gordon said: “It’s something that can only really be understood properly and responded to properly if you take a Metro Vancouver-wide approach to it. Simply focussing on compact municipal areas like Surrey or like New Westminster or like Burnaby or West Vancouver simply concentrating on those areas does not give (a) you an accurate picture of what’s going on in the city as a whole and (b) does not lead to effective outcomes. And that is in part because of the displacement effect … it’s a game of whack-a-mole so you whack down hard in one area and then crime pops up in another. And it will continue to do that so long as we take a parochial view and don’t respond in a region-wide basis.”

He added: “Now the problem with what Dianne Watts did was that it was parochial and it’s interesting that … she switched her discourse and she’s talking now about the region, and having announced that she’s no longer running for Surrey but still has Surrey in her heart, she’s now freed up to be able to take a more rational approach to the issue and look at crime from a regional perspective.

“And that is indicative of a primary problem with developing sound social policy to a lot of things in Metro Vancouver, not just crime and punishment, but social services as well, and that the people making decisions oftentimes have parochial interests and so we don’t get to the nub of the problem and we spend and waste money on initiatives that are localized.”

Gordon accused Watts of “KNEE-JERKING.” He said: “First, we had this announcement that the crime statistics for Surrey looked appalling when you look at homicides that they had a disproportionate number and a disproportionate rate of homicides and what was going on. And she put her finger on it by talking about the drug trade before the much-vaunted task force had even got going. One wonders therefore why they bothered to put this task force together which produced nothing … it fizzled.

“What they actually came up with was self-evident. I don’t know how much it cost the people of Surrey financially, but it seemed to me to be pretty pathetic attempt to deal with this problem. … We never did find out anything about the qualitative nature of those homicides. There was never an announcement as to what their analysis showed, whether it in fact it showed what Dianne Watts’ original idea was accurate – that it was all related to the drug trade or whether it was spread out all over the map.”

THAT brought us to the THIRD point – “the question around crime and punishment in Surrey which is to what extent have these outbursts of criminal activity appeared as a consequence of rapid and largely unplanned growth in Surrey in the rush to pull buildings down and put up concrete monstrosities … to recreate Metrotown in Surrey.”

Gordon asked: “Has one of the costs been an importation of a large number of people without the social infrastructure to meet their needs?” and added: “I don’t know the answer to that question, but if I were looking at crime and punishment in Surrey, that’s one of the places where I would begin.”

He said: “And of course, running through it all is the adequacy of the criminal justice system in addressing the challenges that have arisen and which would be my FOURTH point of consideration. Has the City of Surrey under her direction produced a cost-effective and efficient criminal justice system? Are they running like a smoothly oiled machine down over there? And the answer is ‘No.’”

Gordon pointed out: “And part of the problem lies with the structure and organization of policing in Surrey which in turn is a function of the nonsense that we have in the Metro area generally. It’s not going to get any better until such time the provincial government does what numerous reports have suggested they do, the most recent being the Missing Women Task Force, and stop listening to people who don’t know what they are talking about and who have a vested interest in the status quo and take a good hard look at reorganizing policing in Metro. The chances of that happening I think are slender.”

Gordon said: “If you look at what’s going on in other parts of Canada, it seems that it will most likely occur when some kind of an amalgamation of the municipalities into a Metro regional government takes place, but that is … just not something that people want to talk about because the people talking about it – the policy makers – are people who have a lot to lose if there is in fact the creation of a single Metro government structure.”