SURREY – "It was not easy saying nothing for a very long time."
But that’s what Surrey First did regarding its crime plans, acknowledged the team’s mayoral candidate Linda Hepner as she sat in her office following Tuesday’s police committee meeting.
The reason? The team was awaiting the results of an RCMP-commissioned review of Surrey’s detachment.
"We knew we needed more officers, but hearing what the experts said around the whole mix of policing and what that meant and where those officers would be best utilized and why – that was really important," Hepner said, stressing that public safety is Surrey First’s number one priority.
"It’s too important to make up on the fly. That’s why we’ve waited to see what was in Dr. Cohen’s report before releasing our platform."
With that in, the slate has now unveiled its crime platform, much of it based on results of the study. The three pillars are strengthening policing, expanding crime prevention and standing up for victims’ rights.
The $21-million plan calls for 52 new members, on top of the city’s current expansion plans for 95 officers. With 30 of the 95 positions already created, the party commits to hiring the remaining 117 – 100 of those over two years.
Hepner noted the commitment will surpass the city’s target of one officer to every 700 residents or better.
She said it is important to have "actual,
fully-trained police officers" who can make arrests.
Other plans to strengthen policing include adopting a neighbourhood policing model, providing additional members to the RCMP’s youth
section and hiring a general manager of public safety to oversee initiatives in the city’s Crime Reduction strategy, review technology, implement the CCTV project and co-ordinate between bylaw enforcement, police and fire services. As well, the platform includes plans to find efficiencies within the detachment.
The platform includes a commitment to work with the province to establish a secure mental health facility that would allow
RCMP to drop off a mental health patient without needing to remain on-site for security reasons.
Surrey First also wants to bring back the Prolific Offender Management Team, a pilot project discontinued by the province in 2013.
Other plans include relocating the Front Room to the hospital precinct, establishing
a made-for-Surrey specialized court, and creating a Social Innovation Strategy to reduce recidivism in the city.
Surrey First also plans to appoint community liason officers for each district of the city, who would act as a point of contact between the public and the RCMP – a position Hepner described as a "citizen advocate."
Hepner said the slate will also request the federal government allow citizens to be given access to offenders living in the city.
"It’s a program that’s in place in the states and in my mind should be in place here. We should know where they are," she said, adding the city and public should have known where Raymond Caissie was before the tragic incident that took the life of
Surrey teen Serena Vermeersch.
"We should be able at the touch of a button know there are offenders in this area and this area and this area. And we should be more watchful."
Hepner said funding for the city’s portion of the platform costs will come from revenues received from growth, dividends from the Surrey City Development Corporation, secondary-suite fees and existing city taxes.
Mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode claims her former team has taken a "waitand-see approach" to fixing Surrey’s crime problem. She said in a release she and Fordy have been calling for more officers for over a year.
She adds Hepner launched her campaign focusing on building a ferris wheel by the Pattullo Bridge and moving the railway tracks away from White Rock, "instead of making public safety a priority."
"For political reasons, they are
finally willing to acknowledge our neighbourhoods are actually dealing with some pretty serious public safety issues."
Rasode finds it unacceptable that Surrey First waited roughly a year for the research report, even going as far as to say the Surrey First’s crime strategy is a "complete failure."
She claims residents paid the price for Surrey First waiting for the results, pointing to stats, including the record number of homicides in 2013.
To Rasode’s criticisms, Hepner stressed that the team wanted a "laser focus" in terms of what the experts recommend.
"It’s easy for every person to have an opinion on what should change but to couple that with expert information is really, I think, prudent leadership," Hepner added.
Mayoral opponent Doug McCallum took shots at Surrey First as well, citing Hepner’s comments that he will use data about RCMP’s staffing levels to "fear monger." He believes the detachment reviews demonstrate how "wrong and out of touch she is."