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Crime, lies and damned statistics

Beyond any other issue in the Surrey civic election this year, crime has dominated the agenda of every politician. Not only has nearly every slate unveiled a platform focusing on reducing crime, Doug McCallum is literally running on a slate whose name promises a safer Surrey. It's not altogether surprising that crime has received a lot of attention in this city. A number of high-profile murders this year, including a horrific slaying of teenager Serena Vermeersch in September, has many residents on edge.

A recent angus Reid poll of Metro Vancouver residents found just 13 per cent of Surrey residents rated their city as safe, a far cry from people living in nearby Richmond and Delta, where 71 per cent of residents feel safe.

With shootings and murders and assaults in Surrey feeling like the status quo, it's somewhat predictable that politicians have volunteered solutions to the problem. I don't have any objection to offering a plan for crime in Surrey.

Where I have a problem is in the inaccurate, misleading and outright lies perpetrated by some candidates seeking office. Kal Dosanjh, a Vancouver police officer and candidate for barinder Rasode's One Surrey slate, tweeted an infographic recently showing that attempted murder in Surrey is up a shocking 600 percent during the watch of Surrey First.

Murder is up 127 per cent, vehicle thefts are up 45 per cent, sexual assaults are up 30 per cent, and property crime is up 27 per cent, according to the infographic, which quotes Surrey RCMP crime statistics. What the infographic is missing, however, is the context of time. there's no reference point with respect to these statistics by which residents can judge how meaningful these shocking numbers are.

Fortunately for this reporter, simply going to the Surrey RCMP public crime statistics database is enough to add that much-needed context to the equation. It's true that attempted murder is up 600 per cent. but that's because it went from one attempted murder in the first two quarters of 2013, to seven attempted murders in the same time period for 2014.

Extrapolating any meaningful results from a statistic involving numbers in the single digits - over a time period of only half a year - is nearly impossible. It's far more useful to look at crime in Surrey over a lengthier period of time to see how serious the problem may actually be. Surrey's violent crime rate peaked in 2001 at 7,678, at a rate of 2,113 per capita (every 100,000 citizens).

As of 2013 that rate had plummeted to 5,800 violent crimes, even as the population had soared, bringing the rate down to 1,175 people affected for every 100,000 citizens. Property crime has similarly fallen from a high of 36,521 property crimes in 2001, affecting 10,049 people for every 100,000 citizens, down to a low of 25,912 in 2010, affecting 5,539 people for every 100,000 citizens. that number has climbed back up to 5,848 people as of 2013, but is still a 40 per cent decline from the worst Surrey has ever seen.

that's not to say crime isn't a problem in this city. Surrey's violent crime rate per capita is fourth highest in Metro Vancouver (behind Vancouver, New Westminster, and Langley City), and according to a recent SFU study, Surrey has the highest overall crime rate by a wide margin, the smallest decrease in the crime rate since 2008 (tied with Richmond) and the lowest clearance (solved crimes) rate of all jurisdictions.

The city is also arguably underserved by its small police force; Surrey has 731 people for every one officer, compared to Vancouver's 504 people for every one officer. then again, Surrey has the best ratio among RCMP-led jurisdictions in the Lower Mainland. I'm not trying to minimize the fact Surrey is a city with a crime problem.

But the fear-mongering made by opportunistic politicians hoping to get elected does not helpfully frame the debate on what's to be done about it. Nor do misleading statistics. the fact is Surrey is a city with fewer violent crimes than it was when Mayor Dianne Watts and Surrey First was first elected. the question is whether there are steps that can be taken to reduce crime even further.

Adrian MacNair is a staff reporter with the Now. Email amacnair@thenownewspaper. com.

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