ELECTION: Scared Surrey: Poll finds few residents feel safe

SURREY — Just 13 per cent of Surrey residents rated their city as safe, a starkly lower number than anywhere else in Metro Vancouver, according to a recent poll commissioned by Vancity.

Crime is a hot municipal election topic in Surrey. All major mayoral candidates have made it a central plank in their campaign platforms.

Surrey’s RCMP chief asked last week for more officers to help police the growing city, where there have been several high-profile violent crimes in recent years.

This concern about safety comes at a time when statistics show crime is decreasing in most Canadian cities.

But it is often people’s reaction to crime stories in their neighbourhoods, rather than actual statistics, that drive how safe they truly feel, said Shachi Kurl, senior vice-president at Angus Reid Global.

“It’s common to see disconnects between what people perceive and what’s actually happening,” Kurl said.

“When it comes to safety, that’s a fundamental issue — something that speaks to a person’s own sense of well-being. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.”

Angus Reid Global conducted an online survey of 1,100 Metro Vancouver residents in September, asking them to rate their home cities when it came to factors such as crime, affordability and the economy. Vancity used the data to produce a Livable City Study, which was provided to The Vancouver Sun.

When asked to rate the safety of their communities, fully half the people polled in Metro Vancouver thought their hometowns were safe.

By a wide margin, the most fearful place was Surrey, where the vast majority of residents did not feel safe.

Jo-Ann Wilson, who has lived with her husband in Newton for 10 years, said it doesn’t feel like crime is decreasing in Surrey. She cited more drug dealing in the area, a perceived increase in gun activity, and the random murder last month of teenager Serena Vermeersch in an unlit area near train tracks.

“I’m sure that anybody that now walks down any of those areas are more cautious, or they aren’t going to go alone. You hear people talk about it. I think people are afraid,” said Wilson, who took part in the Vancity poll and was later interviewed by The Sun.

Since moving to Surrey from Port Coquitlam a decade ago, Wilson has refused to walk along nearby King George Highway — except once when she had no choice.

“The only time in 10 years I ever walked down King George Highway was when my car was stolen in 2012 … out of our driveway,” said Wilson, an office worker for a Surrey construction company.

“There is a lot of drug activity, a lot of hookers, people approaching you as you walk along. I was very uncomfortable walking down the street.”

Wilson is happy local politicians are focusing on crime in the lead-up to the Nov. 15 municipal election, and is leaning toward supporting Surrey First’s Linda Hepner because she liked the approach of her predecessor, outgoing Mayor Dianne Watts.

Across Metro Vancouver, the poll found community safety was the second most important factor for respondents when rating the livability of their hometowns. The top factor was a place to raise children.

Of the 16 factors the survey takers were asked to consider when rating their cities, those deemed less important were value for money spent on housing, proximity to relatives and cultural diversity.

The Angus Reid Global poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent, 19 times out of 20. The results were statistically weighted to reflect age, gender and census data for each city, to mirror the adult population of Metro Vancouver.

lculbert@vancouversun.com

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