RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald speaks to The VOICE about the crime situation
BY RATTAN MALL
SURREY’S Police Chief, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, this week pointed out to me that the City’s “very large dynamic youth population – 25 per cent of our population” represents a specific target market not only for gang recruitment but for trying to involve people and individuals in the drug trade or in the use of illicit drugs.
He added: “Surrey is inextricably linked to certain groups that operate in the Surrey-Abbotsford-Vancouver area and are constantly vying for control. And for Surrey with such a large city and huge population it unfortunately represents a territory that these people want to gain hold of.”
In response to a question about gangs and gang violence in Surrey, McDonald said: “I think the issue of gang violence isn’t just a Surrey-specific issue. It is an issue that has plagued us throughout the Lower Mainland. And we have seen a spike in gang activity not only in Surrey but in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley in the last year and a half and specifically here in the last two months.”
He pointed out: “It is inextricably linked to the illegal drug trade and those vying for control in that area and I think that’s why we are seeing this spike recently.”
Here is part of the interview in which I asked McDonald about a wide range of law and order issues (also read article titled “Why investigations into gang homicides are complicated”):
VOICE: A large proportion of the youth population happens to be South Asian. How do you deal with this problem?
MCDONALD: First off, we do have to accept and recognize that there is a high proportion of South Asian males that get caught up in this. However, that is really reflective of the population demographic of Surrey in total. We do have a very large South Asian population. So in order to combat that from a youth perspective, we have our three-pronged approach of education, prevention and enforcement.
Now, we are out there enforcing, conducting investigations and getting in the face of gangsters on a regular basis, but I think in order to have a long term impact we address a significant amount of resources to prevention and education and so we have about 17 youth programs that we operate in conjunction with partners throughout the City where we go into elementary schools, community groups and high schools in order to reach kids with an anti-gang message, providing positive mentorship, identifying youths that are at risk, and directing them to services. I think only by getting into the schools and getting into engagement with youth at an early age are we going to see any significant impact in the long term.
VOICE: You have a high proportion of Indo-Canadian officers too dealing with these issues, right?
MCDONALD: Yes. I can say that our demographics for officers in Surrey Detachment is very similar to the community that we police.
VOICE: There was a report recently that Surrey RCMP were asking for more police officers. Do you think that only having more officers is the only the answer to the solution?
MCDONALD: This is never just a numbers game. [To elaborate,] Surrey is a very large city; in fact, it’s the one of the largest and fastest growing municipalities in this country and definitely in B.C. and, in a few years, we are going to outpace Vancouver; we are just about 100,000 in population behind them.
And so as a police department, each year we go before the City Council and the Mayor to request increased establishment based on what we see as the need of the community and programs we would like to enhance and issues we’d like to address in the City. And it’s up to the Mayor and Council to approve the police budget and approve resources for the City. That’s determined by them.
We police with the resources we are given. So any police chief will tell you they want more resources, but I will tell you it’s things that I would like to do in the City [for which] I would like an increase in more resources. But it’s not just a numbers game. There are so many variable factors that impact crime in the City – especially gang violence – that we have to look at a lot of the social issues as well. We need the engagement and support of the community and community groups in order to truly combat this effectively.
VOICE: Should there be some kind of a formula that you should work out with the City and probably with the federal government, that you go there on a regular basis to see exactly how many more police officers you need, because the population of Surrey is going to keep increasing? We all know that.
MCDONALD: Yes, the population will definitely increase. I can tell you that anything we do now [is] by metrics and by data – all our performance measures are captured. We analyze them on a regular basis to see that we are making the most of the resources that we are provided. So we have a variety of factors that we consider when going to determine the resource allocation request.
You know it’s not just what the current statistics are, it’s not just what the population is; it comes to what type of crimes we are dealing with, the crime severity index, the caseload per officer, and the crime trends that we are facing. All of these things come into play and helps us to establish with justification the resources that we request.
Each community is different; so it is difficult to say that the number of officers policing Chilliwack should be proportionate to Surrey because some of the issues we face – although we share some commonalities – are quite different and our communities have a different makeup. So it is complicated. It’s a challenge in policing across the country and coming up with an effective formula, but I am confident given the analysis we do, it’s appropriate.
VOICE: What’s the main challenge, in your opinion, you are facing regarding the gang situation in Surrey?
MACDONALD: I think that there are several issues at play here. For some reason the culture in the Lower Mainland, not just in Surrey, … in the last 25 years has been imbued with gang violence and we need to find the reason for that apart from the lifestyle and the myth of the gang lifestyle and the easy money and drugs. We all know – the community knows, the police know, the criminals know – that involvement in gang lifestyle ends in only two ways: death or in jail. And yet still, gangs are successful in recruiting individuals to come forward and somehow we need to find a way to join together, to unite and break that cycle of violence and death that is plaguing our youth.
And that really is the million-dollar question … how do we as the police department, not just in Surrey but throughout the Lower Mainland, partner with the community and other interest groups to come up with a solution for this problem? We can throw all the enforcement officers at these individuals, we can put them in jail, we can take them off the streets, but really we have to find a way to break the desire to join the gang lifestyle.
VOICE: Is there anything else that you think you should address to the South Asian community?
MACDONALD: You know I would address it to the residents of Surrey as a whole in that, as you point out, the South Asian community is a significant portion of that community – and it is this that the Surrey RCMP are wholly committed to the safety of this community. We are your police force. We are dedicated solely to you. And as the Police Chief I am confident in the deployment models that we offer. I am confident in our approach of education, prevention and enforcement.
In the last several years, the Mayor and Council have added a significant amount of resources to the Surrey RCMP in order to address these issues. In order to be successful we definitely need high community engagement, but we have more, so to speak, boots on the ground now than we’ve ever had before.
We have a high degree of accountability not only to the residents of the City but also to the Mayor and Council in determining what our priorities are in policing and how we are going to police them and we have significant amount of community engagement. In fact, I would argue that the Surrey RCMP with their 17 youth programs and five district offices, our Crime Reduction Units in every community in the City are more engaged than probably many police forces. We have a diversity unit, we have a youth unit and we have patrols on bike, on foot, on patrol cars all throughout the City.
Contrary to what some have said, a very significant portion of the officers that work in Surrey, live in Surrey or the neighbouring communities. So we are part of the community … we help the youth, we volunteer, we socialize and we take this violence very seriously because this is happening in our neighbourhood as well. And we are committed to putting a stop to it and we are committed to the residents and we are confident that we will be able to do that.