ELECTION: Surrey mayoral candidate proposes new approach to crime

SURREY — Surrey mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode has enlisted the help of Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford — known for his model of “no call too small” — to devise a similar plan to tackle crime in B.C.’s second largest city.

The “360-degree plan,” released Thursday by Rasode, would potentially see Surrey take on a policing model similar to Delta’s. The plan includes the creation of a new office of public safety to oversee and collaborate with other agencies including fire, engineering and the school district. It also recommends 200 new locally trained personnel officers to handle foot and bike patrols and take ownership of specific issues ranging from break and enters to gangs and traffic violations.

The personnel officers, who would be trained at the Justice Institute but not armed, would cost $8 million annually, which Rasode said would be covered by trimming budgets in other departments.

“How come we can’t be like Delta where no call is too small?” Rasode said. “As everyone knows, Mayor Dianne Watts created a great legacy and moved the city forward. But we’re in jeopardy of losing the progress we made because of all the crime.”

Crime is a hot-button issue for mayoral candidates in Surrey, which has been plagued by high-profile murders like the recent killing of teenager Serena Vermeersch and the fatal beating of hockey mom Julie Paskall outside the Newton Recreation Centre.

Rasode’s challengers — fellow councillor Linda Hepner, former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, and independent candidate John Edwards — have also cited crime as a major focus of their election platforms and promised, if elected, to add more RCMP officers.

But Rasode, a two-term councillor, argues Surrey can’t afford to wait to train new RCMP officers, saying it could take a decade to train 95 new officers and get them on the ground. She acknowledges that while she, too, is to blame for Surrey’s crime problems, she feels compelled to fix them, saying “complacency has built a culture of neglect in Surrey.” She cited one case, in which city officials told people not to wear jewelry after an Indo-Canadian man was robbed in a park. At the same time, she said, Newton was known to be a problem area yet nothing was done.

“I felt a personal responsibility that we failed not only Julie (Paskall) and her family but the community,” she said.

She and Cessford have been working for months on the plan, which the Delta chief said would “absolutely” work in making Surrey safer. Although Cessford hasn’t endorsed Rasode — as a police chief it would be inappropriate — he said he fully supports the plan, noting similar ones have seen success in cities like New York and Edmonton.

“There needs to be a good solid comprehensive plan and it needs to have some strength and substance to it,” he said. “You need to sit down with each of your communities, which are each distinct and ask, ‘What are you concerned about? Is it gangs, traffic, break and enters … and then assign somebody from the team — police, fire or engineering — and say, ‘You own these problems and I want you to report back.’ They don’t have the resources right now. We have to try to get them some resources.”

Cessford, who is retiring from the Delta force next year, said he would be willing to take on the job of director of public safety, which would deal with everything from fires, bylaws, unsightly communities, absentee landlords and regulations for recovery homes, while pulling together members of integrated service teams to work as a group to solve community problems.

“It’s very difficult for the police to pound their fists on the desk and make demands for change in legislation,” said Cessford.

“No disrespect to the RCMP but it’s that whole notion of nothing’s going to get better if you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Maybe there needs to be a new approach to dealing with public safety in Surrey. You need to change that mindset with people that Surrey’s a dangerous city and start working by saying Surrey is going to be one of the safest cities in Canada. If you put your heart and soul in it, it can happen.”

However, the Surrey First Coalition, from which Rasode split earlier this year, shot down the plan Thursday, saying in a statement that Rasode’s plan to hire 200 so-called community safety officers and security guards is “dangerous, because they wouldn’t properly trained officers, and (the plan) takes resources away from professional policing.”

The coalition added it would cost $140,000 to hire, train and equip an RCMP officer and Rasode’s plan is akin to hiring people at minimum wage. “That’s not professional policing, and it’s not what we need,” said Coun. Tom Gill, chairman of the city’s finance committee.

Hepner said much of Rasode’s plan is based on Surrey’s crime prevention strategy, which is nearly completed, with the city manager and the police chief working on the final details of coordinating public safety under one umbrella.

“I’ve also had discussions with the chief of police regarding the establishment of a devoted petty crime unit, to deal with those crimes that negatively impact people and communities,” Hepner said in news release.

She noted the city has 768 police officers, with another 30 on the way, while another 100 community police officers are expected on the ground in the next two years. “Today, we’re spending $123 million on policing, that’s $54 million more than in 2005, and we’ll continue to invest what it takes to keep our city safe,” she said.

Hepner added it’s critical that the city, province and federal government work with the city and community to tackle the root causes of many crimes, because policing alone isn’t enough. She says re-establishing a facility to care for people with mental health problems is a priority, in an effort to address the root causes of crime.

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