BY RATTAN MALL
BECOMING Mayor of Surrey (riding on former mayor Dianne Watt’s coattails) was actually the easy part for Linda Hepner.
Controlling crime in B.C.’s second largest city with its diverse problems will for sure prove to be the hardest part.
And for good reasons.
Don’t expect the crime situation in Surrey to improve this year merely because we have been assured of many more police officers joining the Surrey RCMP Detachment.
SFU’s leading criminologist Dr. Robert Gordon pointed out to The VOICE this week: “I didn’t think hiring more policemen in Surrey is going to do anything because almost invariably those police officers are fresh out of [the RCMP] Depot. They have no street sense, no street experience … They are not going to be very good field police officers for at least two years.”
On the other hand, Gordon said that the whole issue of community safety officers is a pretty good idea. However, “it’s not the kind of thing that you can place over the top of a broken policing structure in the hopes that somehow it’s going to fix it,” noting that such officers “are quite common in the United Kingdom but there the police services are much more rationally organized.”
Nevertheless, he noted: “CSOs are a tremendously useful tool for dealing with a range of community issues and challenges and you can recruit those people from your local community. So they are almost immediately ready to go and provide input on issues of crime and crime prevention for that particular community. They don’t need the kind of highfalutin training that you get with a regular police officer. CFOs are a god idea provided they are properly implemented. … But I don’t think that that [RCMP] is an organization that is terribly receptive to that sort of innovation.”
THERE is no magic bullet, noted Gordon.
He said: “The Surrey Crime Reduction strategy was a great idea. … The RCMP seemed to be having some success with it because the crime rate stabilized in Surrey. What happens after that, I don’t know because they never tell you. .. I suspect they got complacent. … You have to keep going back and renewing the initiative at regular intervals to keep it moving.”
Gordon said: “I don’t think there is going to be any major change in Surrey in the New Year. I think you probably will continue to see crime rates falling across B.C. and generally in large metropolitan areas, but there will be hotspots and Surrey will probably continue to be one of those hotspots – continue to be wrestling with the occasional murder, they’ll continue to wrestle with problems related to the drug trade both on the consumption side and on the production side and they will continue to have problems with crimes that are related to low-income areas and communities that are deprived. … Surrey has low-income clusters probably in wilder profusion than is the case in other municipalities and it is a tendency for minor crimes both property and crimes of violence to find themselves around the periphery of those communities. None of that is going to change.”
There is also the problem of always invariably viewing the problem as being localized instead of viewing it from a regional perspective. Gordon said; “It is a regional issue and to think that they can address the problems inside Surrey without reference to anything that’s going on outside is just blatantly foolish.”
HOWEVER, although Gordon noted that a community like Surrey, given its size and diversity, was going to have its fair share of problem individuals and problem communities, he found it surprising that after numerous attempts to get to the bottom of the so-called crime problem in Surrey, no one really seemed any the wiser.
He added: “And it does seem as if what the City councillors intend on doing is just throwing more money and policemen at it in the vain hope that somehow that’s going to solve the problem.”
He said: “I don’t think that’s going to happen. But it’s not a single variable situation – you’ve got a whole range of issues in Surrey and they seem to be – and the people who they are consulting with seem to be – incapable of sorting it out. I don’t understand why.
“It may be that they should think seriously about bringing in other people rather than their favourites to address the crime problem. What they have been doing so far is just turning to the same bunch of individuals who just simply recycle the same ideas and I don’t think that’s taking the city any further ahead.”
So who should they be consulting?
Gordon replied: “What they need is a genuinely independent blue ribbon panel … a mixture of expertise coupled with independents coupled with a brutally critical eye so that there can be no interference with their outcomes and the results of these panels be made subject to public discussion, not hidden – for Council’s eyes only – because what happens then is a great massaging of results. That’s one of the things that they have to do.
“There is a great amount of information available right now on the situation in Surrey and they’ve had all these inquiries but you never hear the outcomes other than the one that was struck by the previous mayor to look at the crisis in homicide statistics in 2013. … That brains trust they put together didn’t seem to produce very much at all.”
So what is the solution?
Gordon said: “Gathering information is the first step – and analyzing that information.” But he added: “One of the problems with Surrey is that it is just such a huge diverse community that … it makes it very difficult to identify particular strategies for action.”
HOWEVER, Gordon ended on a positive note, saying: “I will continue to look with optimism at the developments taking place around Surrey City Centre – that whole area around SFU and around the City Hall – that is clearly an area of significant development.
“We’ve seen that change quite dramatically over the last five years and that will continue I think to be the developed hub of Surrey. I could see another Metrotown growing in there primarily because of the SkyTrain.
“The Guildford Town Centre will continue to be important, but it doesn’t have the SkyTrain which is a major asset which will change things in Central Surrey.”