City faces ‘tough decisions’ to fund more cops on street

SURREY – The City of Surrey has fallen behind targets laid out in its own Crime Reduction Strategy, which calls for one police officer to every 700 residents or better.

Surrey currently has 673 police officers. The 2014 budget calls for 12 more, which would increase the number to 685.

With a projected population of roughly 512,000 in 2014, that means one officer for every 747 people. The city would need to add 46 more officers this year to hit its own target. The community is calling for more police after the murder of Julie Paskall on Dec. 29.

Coun. Barinder Rasode, chair of Surrey’s police and community safety committees, said the city undoubtedly needs more RCMP. The problem in hitting that target comes down to growth and dollars, she said.

“We do have a challenge in the city. We have a thousand people a month coming to our community…

“We welcome growth. Growth creates vibrant communities. Good planning can absorb that growth, but I think that what happens is that sometimes we have to be able to manage all of the priorities we have within the budgets that we have. So certainly we get eight cents of the tax dollar, so within that, we need to make some tough decisions.”

Rasode’s comments came hours after a man was shot in the back at a Mac’s store in Guildford late Tuesday night.

Police say the victim and shooter got out of the same Chevy pickup truck and headed into the store, at 100th Avenue and 152nd Street, at about 11:30 p.m. Once inside, the one shot the other. At press time the victim was in stable condition in Royal Columbian Hospital.

Rasode said the city needs to create a long-term strategy to bring the police officer count back up. She proposes that the city’s secondary suite fee be used to fund more police officers.

“There are some creative solutions that we are going to have to come up with.”

Surrey has the lowest residential taxes in the Lower Mainland (see column on page 8), and Rasode doesn’t think council should raise taxes to solve the problem.

“I just think that we need to come up with ways to tighten our belt a bit and other creative solutions.”

But the city may need to re-evaluate the target of one officer for every 700 people, she said, based on new technologies and new ways of policing.

Rasode said the community safety committee is set to look at an app for smartphones to report non-violent crimes, similar to that of the Victoria Police Department.

She also said city issues, such as illegal dumping or graffiti, shouldn’t be taking up police resources. But it comes down to ease of reporting, again, she said. The committee will also be discussing a centralized number at city hall for reporting bylaw infractions.

Rasode also noted as city council is doing its work, they need to engage both the provincial and federal governments.

“The federal government had made a commitment some time ago to provide more RCMP officers to communities in Canada. I think that’s a conversation that does need to take place at that level. And it’s an important one,” Rasode said.

“More and more we are being compelled to provide support to our communities that the federal and provincial government are no longer providing.

“So in terms of taking a holistic approach with the challenge of crime, we’ve been investing money in other areas that really, funding traditionally, does come from other levels of government.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Dianne Watts is planning to meet with the RCMP commissioner in Ottawa this February to discuss the amount of police resources being taken off the street to deal with mental health and medical issues.

Watts also said she spoke with the solicitor general about Surrey’s issues around policing, mental health, as well as prolific and repeat offenders.

Surrey’s refugee population also needs support and resources, Watts added. With files from Tom Zytaruk

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