Does Surrey deserve its crime-ridden rap?

SURREY — As Surrey’s rapid growth continues, business owners and developers are looking to shake off the city’s reputation as a haven for criminal activity.

In a recent online survey that polled 495 residents, crime was the biggest issue for 51 per cent. The second-biggest was transportation at 18 per cent. Half of Surrey’s residents (49 per cent) believe the level of criminal activity in their community has increased in the past five years, and 53 per cent say they fear becoming a victim of crime "a great deal" or "a fair amount."

This is in stark contrast to Vancouver residents polled in the Insights West survey, in which housing was the No. 1 issue and crime came in at three per cent below transportation, economic development and health care. Vancouver residents also felt crime had plateaued in their city.

With the city’s recent three homicides in five days -not to mention the high-profile, apparently random murder of Surrey mother Julie Paskall in a Newton Arena parking lot late last year, and the infamous Surrey Six gang slaying now unfolding in BC Supreme Court – the community is getting its fair share of bad press.

In her final state of the city address in May, Mayor Dianne Watts talked about the task force she spearheaded with Surrey RCMP that resulted in increased arrests.

Statistics for the city paint a picture of a community struggling with crime in some areas, but winning the battle overall – mirroring a countrywide trend.

In 2013, homicides rose 127 per cent (to 25 last year from 11 in 2012).

However, violent crimes were down three per cent. Property crime rose three per cent last year, but prostitution was down 15 per cent. In 2013, assaults were down six per cent and attempted murder was down 60 per cent from the previous year. Surrey RCMP Sgt.

Dale Carr noted many people fail to look at the long-term outlook: crime has dropped across the board in the past decade.

"Certainly there have been a number of residences and business owners that have expressed some concern about crime in the city of Surrey," he said.

"And as their police force, we take that concern very seriously. And what’s important to notice too is the population of Surrey has grown significantly over the last number of years, but our crime rate has actually decreased overall."

Leo Smyth, Fraser Valley office leader and private company services partner for PwC, has worked in Surrey for three years, and offers a frank anecdotal rebuttal to critics of the city’s handling of law and order.

"I live in Vancouver and I work in Surrey, and my car’s never been broken into in Surrey," Smyth said. "But it gets broken into all the frigging time in Vancouver."

Smyth, whose office is just off King George Boulevard on 102nd Avenue, said over the years the press has stigmatized the city through inconsistent reporting.

"The media perpetuates this image, and they need to do some homework, to be honest. And understand what’s really going on."

This fall Surrey will elect a new mayor, and for the first time in more than a decade it will not be Watts. Surrey respondents to the Insights West survey ranked Watts’ handling of crime at the bottom of her achievements, as only 16 per cent felt she and council did a "good" job at heightening public safety. And only two per cent said they did an "excellent" job at lowering crime.

Surrey Coun. Barinder Rasode, who many believe will run against Surrey First’s Linda Hepner for Watts’ vacant mayoral seat in the fall election, noted some recent meetings she’s had with manufacturing owners in the Port Kells area dealing with repeated breaking and entering and property theft.

"The No. 1 question for any business is the safety and integrity of the neighbourhoods that they invest a lot of money in. And also equally important is the safety of their employees. And what we’re hearing is that a lot of nuisance crime, petty and property crime, is not even getting reported."

For some, such as Jack Bailey, franchisee owner for Snap-on Tools in the Newton area, crime is seldom a major issue.

"Overall I don’t think it has a negative effect," Bailey said. "There are some issues with petty theft, but I think that happens anywhere. I think the police are doing a good job of staying on top of it right now and working with the owners and the community."

Pete Nichols, who owns Whalley Printers that opened in 1968, said the name "Whalley" can be associated with criminal behaviour.

"It was suggested as far back as 25 years ago to change our name to something else, and I’ll be buggered if I’m going to succumb to pressure like that. [Operating my business in Whalley] doesn’t stop me from coming into Whalley at any time of the day or night, that’s for sure."

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