Businesses in the Downtown Surrey area feel “slightly safer” than they did last year, according to the BIA’s analysis of its annual safety audit.
While the “average safety rating” in the audit actually went down in 2019 – from 3.30 in 2018 to 3.21 this year – the BIA highlights in a release that the data suggests businesses actually feel “slightly safer” this year.
Here’s how the report explains it.
“The first question in this year’s audit asks businesses how safe they felt in the area last year, on a scale of 1-5. In previous years, this question was asked as, ‘do you feel more safe, the same, or less safe than last year?’ This year, the question was redone to provide more of an idea of how safe people felt in the area in the past. For example, in the past, an answer of ‘more safe,’ would be a positive response, even if the respondent still felt unsafe overall.”
That question resulted in a 3.17 score, which would mean a drop in feelings of safety compared to 2018.
But the BIA also asked businesses how safe they currently feel in their area. That score came in at an average of 3.21.
Lainey Martin, a student intern who worked on this year’s audit, said this “gives us a direct comparison” seeing as the BIA doesn’t necessarily survey the same businesses year to year.
Martin said she believes the slight uptick in perceptions of safety could be due, at least in part, to the removal of the tent city on 135A Street.
“I think it definitely could be because of that,” she told the Now-Leader. “I know businesses around 135A Street where the tent city was before are quite happy with the changes. It’s clear they’re seeing less issues. That could come into play with how they’re feeling a bit safer.”
But just a block away, near the Dell Shopping Centre and one of three modular housing sites for the homeless, businesses voiced “very different perspectives,” Martin noted.
“It’s definitely very specific to each area: If they think the issues are improving,” she said. “I thought that was very interesting. It seems the issues have moved off 135A Street and more toward the King George Boulevard area.”
The audit also asked businesses to share their perspectives on social services in the area.
“While many businesses expressed concerns over loitering, drug use and discarded needles, they also expressed compassion for vulnerable individuals,” the report’s executive summary notes. “Responses were mixed between compassion and anger. Overall, these feelings largely depended on the businesses’ proximity to these services. Businesses located close to services and the modular housing tended to be more frustrated, while others further away supported the initiatives.”
Similarly to last year, the safety audit found that littering, discarded needles and loitering are the top concerns of local businesses.
Martin also noted she discovered “hot spots” when it came to complaints about litter. Those complaints “directly correlated to a lack of trash cans” in that particular area, she said.
The report included several recommendations including the creation of anti-panhandler infrastructure on medians to deter potential panhandlers; addressing the top issue of litter by providing more garbage bins and creating an anti-littering campaign; advocating for more needle disposal boxes and funding for needle pickup programs; advocating for more permanent housing solutions and programming; and establishing increased security patrols in the area.
The last section of the audit asked individuals to express their ideas for addressing safety issues in the area.
“The most common answers were more police and security, more affordable housing and city planning and development. Many people expressed the need for harsher punishments, as well as more rehabilitation services for people in the area,” according to the report.
Feedback about the RCMP was generally positive, but 72.5 per cent favour an increased police and security presence along with more education and rehabilitation services to the downtown area.
“The DSBIA has conducted the safety audit for the past 13 years, to assess the needs of the businesses in our community while addressing the problems they are facing,” said Downtown Surrey BIA Chair Bill Cunningham in a release. “We strive to help those in our community by documenting the changes within our downtown year over year and coming up with strategic plans to better assist businesses.”
The audit was performed over a period of a month and a half, and 176 businesses submitted a complete survey. The survey was delivered to businesses in the DSBIA’s area, from 112th Avenue to 94A Avenue, and University Drive to 140th Street.