Report: Surrey police solving fewer violent crimes

SURREY — A criminologist’s report obtained by the Now reveals fewer violent crimes are being solved in Surrey at the same time the overall rate of crime is increasing.

Authored by Dr. Curt Taylor Griffiths of SFU Surrey’s School of Criminology, the report looks at Surrey RCMP in comparison with several similarly sized municipalities with both RCMP and independent police services (IPS).

Comparing Surrey with RCMP cities Burnaby, Coquitlam Richmond and IPS cities Abbotsford, Delta and Vancouver, Griffiths used numbers provided by Statistics Canada to examine crime severity index (CSI) scores, clearance rates for criminal cases and numbers of criminal code offences.

The crime severity index score is tabulated by assigning offences a numerical value, with higher numbers for more severe cases. The score is then divided by a city’s population to arrive at its CSI score.

Highlights from the paper show that compared to the municipalities mentioned, Surrey has the highest crime rate by a wide margin (89.3 CSI score compared to next lowest Coquitlam, at 57.7), the smallest decrease in crime since 2008 (tied with Richmond) and the highest violent crime rate (130.2 compared to next lowest Vancouver at 114.9).

Compared to the six other municipalities, Surrey RCMP are also solving fewer violent crimes today than in 2003, and has the lowest violent crime clearance rate (at 34.5 compared to next lowest Burnaby at 38). Surrey was also the only city with a violent crime clearance rate that actually decreased from 2008 to 2012 (from 37.8 in 2008 to 34.5 in 2012).

For Griffiths, also a longtime Surrey resident, the numbers came as a surprise.

"I live in Surrey and I’m aware of the challenges and this is just for generic discussion but it’s kind of interesting the way the numbers came out," he said. "Surrey is on track to catch up with Vancouver in terms of population and I’ve never really seen a comparison between Vancouver and Surrey before… As a criminologist and a police scholar, I think it’s something we have to take a look at. Why is there this difference in numbers? Why the lower clearance rate, why does the CSI score look so different?"

According to numbers from the Ministry of Justice, Vancouver has nearly twice as many officers as Surrey, with 1,327 compared to Surrey’s 667. However, Griffiths is quick to point out that more officers don’t necessarily equate to fewer crimes.

"Vancouver, they shift by demand for service so they know that Thursday night starts to be primetime so they load up on officers from Thursday to Sunday morning," he explained. "So Vancouver has less officers out at 1:30 p.m. Monday than they would on the weekend."

Comparatively, general-duty RCMP officers in Surrey typically work a four-on, four-off rotation, with two days, two nights and then four days off.

"That means that Surrey would have as many officers on the street right now than they would at Friday midnight," said Griffiths. "That doesn’t make sense because we know for most municipalities things start cranking up Thursday night and taper off Sunday morning, so when someone says Surrey needs 200 more officers my question would be what are they going to do with them?"

On top of the number of officers being of concern in Surrey, figures from the Ministry of Justice also show that despite the policing costs-per-capita being lower in the RCMP municipalities ($234 for Surrey compared to $366 in Vancouver) the costs-per-officers are nearly the same ($171,071 for Surrey and $184,144 for Vancouver). As well, RCMP officers carry larger caseloads than IPS officers with 35 per officer in Vancouver and 65 per officer in Surrey.

Asked what an independent police force in Surrey might look like and if the cost would be feasible for the city, Griffiths said council would have to look at all angles.

"In terms of costs it would probably be in the millions, but what are the differences? What do you get from an IPS that you don’t get from the RCMP?" he said. "With the RCMP you get benefits, they’ve got E Division headquartered here and you’ve got the benefits of their full resources. The downside is that you don’t have a police board, which provides more accountability and governance like Vancouver."

Griffiths noted the last time a municipality in B.C. switched from RCMP to an IPS was in 1994, when Abbotsford did it. Here in Surrey, though, Griffiths said it would be a much bigger task than what Abbotsford faced in the mid-1990s.

"What the council would have to do is sit down and look at the cost of transition. Surrey’s no backwater anymore," he said. "Then there’s the question of regionalization."

Finally, Griffiths said he hopes the paper spurs some kind of discussion within the community about crime and policing, and said there were plan to hold discussion forums at SFU sometime in the future related to that.

"You’ve got to figure out how to create a policing arrangement that restores safety and security among your residents," he said. "It’s more than just dollars and cents. There are a lot of nuances with that. How do you put a dollar figure on people’s perception of crime and safety? How do you put a cost on the fact that there’s a community that seems pretty shell-shocked?"

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