SURREY â€” With public safety top of mind for Surrey residents following a recent â€œRally4Change,â€ councillor and Surrey First mayoral hopeful Linda Hepner is urging the public and candidates to refrain from politicizing the issue.
While Hepner said she understands the clear concern from the public about community safety in the wake of the Serena Vermeersch murder, she feels the best course of action for Surrey residents and politicians would be to create a united front to address the issue.
â€œFrankly, our community and our citizens deserve a more serious conversation about crime and public safety than the one Iâ€™m seeing these days on social media,â€ she said. â€œRight now, weâ€™re seeing a lot of people jockeying for position, taking shots at one another, trying to score political points off family tragedies, or making wild and unsubstantiated claims that are only aimed at scaring people.â€
Having attended the Newton rally held Sunday, Hepner said dialogue centered around the state of the justice system.
â€œThere was a lot of emotionâ€¦ a lot of comments around a revolving door and I think pretty rightly so,â€ she said. â€œI think that it was what you could expect. A lot of concern for Serenaâ€™s family, how could that guy ever get out on the street and victimize someone else?â€
Hearing what some of her political opponents have been saying about crime in Surrey â€” especially in light of Vermeerschâ€™s murder â€” Hepner said it was time to set differences aside on something this important.
â€œThe fact is, if any issue in this election should cut across political lines, itâ€™s this one. I know every single person whoâ€™s running in this election, and I know we all want to keep Surrey safe. So, letâ€™s start there and work with our community, our police and our justice system to do just that.â€
Hepner said a lot of the negative discussion surrounding the crime issue isnâ€™t doing the city any good either, and it was â€œbreaking down all of the good work thatâ€™s been done to change Surreyâ€™s image over the past nine years.
â€œWeâ€™ve actually went from the Surrey jokes to being a regional powerhouse,â€ she said.
Fellow mayoralty candidate Doug McCallum previously said he would double the amount of officers on patrol in Surrey and speed up hiring practices to 95 officers in 2015. McCallum said he would pay for the officers by abolishing the Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC) and use the funds to pay for policing.
Coun. Barinder Rasode, also running for mayor, has said she would like to add 200 safety personnel to Surrey, which would include community safety officers and volunteers and would be housed in the annual policing fund.
However, Hepner said with 30 more officers on the way by the end of 2014, she would like to add 100 more over the next two years.
Asked where the money would come from, Hepner said the funds would come from a combination of streams, such as an estimated $5-million tax boost from growth, revenue from secondary suites (which brings in $13 million a year) and dividend funds from SCDC, estimated to be around $4.5 million.
Finally, Hepner said everyone should be reminded how far Surrey has come in terms of crime and community safety.
Noting that the officer-to-resident ration was roughly 1:900 in 2005, Hepner said the cityâ€™s done a lot to bring that down to 1:728 today.
â€œIs that a perfect world? No. We said in our strategy weâ€™d like to get to 1:700 or less, which we would with some of this hiring, weâ€™ll be to the 1:700 by the end of this year,â€ she said. â€œWe had to hire over 300 in the last while to make up for the fact that we had the lowest number in the country.
We also inherited a caseload that was close to 200 per officer. So weâ€™ve done considerable work in fixing that problem. Weâ€™re not there yet, but there isnâ€™t a government on the planet that would say â€˜weâ€™re exactly where we want to be and never want anything to change.â€™
â€œThereâ€™s work to be done but weâ€™ve done a lot of work.â€