FOCUS: Surrey mayor says new strategy is not to comment on crime

SURREY — You’re a reporter, and there’s been a shooting in Surrey. Who ya gonna call?

Linda Hepner! Indeed, Surrey’s mayor has been wondering out loud these days why it is that whenever crime breaks out on her city’s streets, news reporters have her on speed dial.

The Mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby and other nearby cities and municipalities do not fall under similar media scrutiny, she claims.

"I don’t think it’s fair to me. "I think it’s habitual, and so it just becomes deliberate," Hepner said of the pattern. "Every time something happens I’m called at a political level to comment.

"I’m just refusing to engage in that kind of exercise," she said. "I need to shift the landscape."



So, why does Hepner, and Surrey, draw the spotlight, anyway? The obvious answer is that Surrey is the only city in Metro Vancouver to have recently experienced a dozen shootings – some of them in broad daylight, on busy streets – over the course of one month, and that Hepner is the city’s mayor.

It’s really no wonder, then, that eyebrows were raised this past weekend when News1130 ran the headline "Surrey’s mayor refuses to comment following 12 shootings in one month – Referred to RCMP instead."

On Monday, Hepner set about parsing the matter. She noted Surrey has just hired 34 more Mounties and said she’s "trying to do what I think a leader needs to do – make sure the policy’s in place."

But commenting on crime? She’d rather leave that to the RCMP.

"It is not that I am reluctant to speak," she told the Now. "Some of these comments are more properly addressed to the force itself."

Hepner conceded the shootings are "creating real angst in the community" but contends it’s "a police matter."

She argues that it does not help a city’s cause for its mayor to always be led to respond to negative issues, and "continually be driven by pervasive negativity.

"I really want Surrey to evolve to become as accepted in that political community arena as these cities that surround me," she said. "I want my city to evolve as the place safe to live and invest."

The Surrey RCMP recently paraded down King George Boulevard with lights on and sirens blaring, en route to raid a Newton trailer park for drugs. Twelve people were arrested on drug-related charges and later released.

"It’ll be a couple of months before we get charge approval," Sgt. Dale Carr noted.

But in the wake of that police initiative, Hepner said, her phone was silent. For the record, the Now did contact her on this. We asked her what she has to say to people who say Newton is not getting the attention it should be getting from city hall, when it comes to fighting crime, and she replied, "You know what, they know that is not so – Newton is getting lots of attention."

Meantime, across Scott Road, North Delta was the scene of two shootings on Sunday. The first happened shortly before 6 p.m., in the 11500-block of 79th Avenue and the second shortly before 9 p.m., in the 8300-block of 110th Street. In the first case, a silver Toyota was seen leaving the scene. In the second, police says the person they believe to have been the intended victim has not lived in the area for some time. Nobody was injured in either case.

Asked Monday if she received any media calls on these, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson replied, "I did have one, from CTV."

Jackson said she’s never deferred a media call to police. "I’ve never done that, we have to stand together, all of us. I like to give the people confidence," she said.

"People want to hear from the mayor. I always take all those calls. The community wants to know what’s happening; they also want to know we are determined to do whatever we can."

As for the two shootings on Sunday, Jackson asks anyone with information that could help the police in their investigation to contact them.

She seemed surprised by Hepner’s response to News1130’s request.

"She’s the mayor, she should be doing something, shouldn’t she?" Jackson said. "It’s part of our job."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan could not be reached for comment.


A brief history of mayoral action

When it comes to crime, the media does like to hold Surrey mayors’ feet to the fire.

And more often than not, the mayors have responded to public and media pressure by striking task forces, committees and special committees in an attempt to address the problems of the day.

Following a shocking series of shootings and stabbings in Surrey involving teens – several of the attacks fatal – and huge public outcry against the Young Offenders Act, Mayor Bob Bose in 1993 struck a 10-member "mayor’s advisory committee on youth violence," led by Whalley family physician Dr. John O’Brien Bell. What resulted was a report containing 78 recommendations, among them hiring more police to serve as liaison officers in school, and providing more wholesome recreational opportunities for the city’s youth. The report cost Surrey ratepayers $26,000, with $13,000 of that in consultant’s fees.

Bose’s successor, Doug McCallum, launched a campaign to crack down on drug houses in North Surrey during his watch as mayor, and in 2003 had a two-block strip of Whalley’s notorious 135A Street barricaded for several months in an attempt to curb prostitution and drug dealing there.

During her time as Surrey’s mayor, Dianne Watts had street lights and surveillance cameras set up along a stretch of Surrey’s rural Colebrook Road after several homicide victims’ bodies were found there, earning the road the unfortunate moniker of "Killbrook."

Watts also launched Surrey’s Crime Reduction Strategy during her term in office.