SURREY — Everyone and their dog has an opinion on how Surrey’s law enforcement could or should be cracking down on the rampant shooting spree.
Joseph Edwards certainly does.
And as a retired RCMP officer with 35 years of service under his belt – 15 in Surrey – it’s safe to say he knows the agency and the city well.
He’s not short on love for either.
But the longtime Cloverdale resident is frustrated. He has one resounding message for Surrey’s leaders: Get more officers on the road.
But he doesn’t necessarily mean hire more – and he told Mayor Linda Hepner as much during a meeting in early 2015.
“It’s been over a year since then and I do not see any change,” said Edwards.
“Boots on the street. That’s it. If you hire another 200, you’ll be paying more and it won’t do any good. Yes, they need new members because of population… but you still need them on the road.”
Edwards described Surrey RCMP’s policing style as “reactive.”
“They leave the office, go to a call, come back and do the paperwork,” said Edwards.
“Each member right now is carrying anywhere between 10 to 30 SUI (Still Under Investigation) files. That means they have to do all the paperwork, all the follow-up, contact with witnesses, statements, interviews, doing Crown reports. It’s their file from its birth to its end.”
Take a grow-op file for example, said Edwards. By his estimate, you’d need a few cops to guard the home while a warrant is obtained. Then a couple more cops to help tear the grow-op down.
“It’s still his file, so that means exhibits, lab reports, investigation to find out who runs the place, if he arrests him, do the interview and Crown report. That’s just one drug file. Yet, if you have a drug section with drug members who are experienced at doing warrants – pass it up to those sections. Get him back on the road.”
When working in Surrey in the early ’80s, Edwards said the saying was, “If it moves, you check it.”
“You can’t check anything sitting in an office. Say an alarm goes off in Port Kells. They call Cloverdale and by the time the call comes in and get in a car, it’s too late. You need cars up there patrolling everything that moves.”
Start small, said Edwards, and the big stuff will take care of itself.
“If you put these guys back on the road, you augment your plainclothes section. They’re writing tickets for things like tail lights, to wearing helmets,” he said. “So if you stop a car in Newton, a black car, lowrider, driving around at 3 o’clock in the morning, if he was going to do a shooting, you’ve already identified that guy as being in the area.”
Word travels fast, he noted.
“When people find out they’re going to get ticketed, going to get checked, they’ll either be squeaky clean or get out of Dodge.”
But members are too busy handling their massive caseload to do so, he said.
“These guys are doing their best but people are getting burned out,” Edwards remarked. “You have to free them up so they want to do these checks.”
And the checks work.
On March 16, Surrey officers stopped a vehicle and they found more than $4.5 million in drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl and fake oxycontin. Pardip Hayer, 30, was charged with four counts of trafficking in a substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Solicitor General Mike Morris said this week that traffic checks regularly yield big busts.
“Our traffic police, right across this province, are our front-line resources that uncover all kinds of criminal activity,” Morris said. “We need them to continue doing that.”
And that’s Edwards’ point.
“In small communities you can do the style of policing (Surrey RCMP is) doing now because you don’t get as many files,” said Edwards. “But when you get to a city like Surrey with more than 500,000 now, you have to change your style.
“If it doesn’t work, change it. It frustrates me… I sit here and shake my head.”
Despite his frustrations, Edwards emphasized his support for the RCMP.
“I love the RCMP. It’s been good to me… But I feel for the members. It’s almost like pushing a string uphill.”
Mayor Hepner recalls meeting with a few law enforcement officers last year to hear their ideas. She said all were passed along to Surrey RCMP’s Officer in Charge Bill Fordy.
“At that point I get out of the way,” she said. “That’s an operational and deployment initiative and it may very well be that some of those things are in place or not. But I know that we’re taking a full-on 360-approach to everything.”
In response to Edwards’ comments, Surrey RCMP Cpl. Scotty Schumann said the detachment has spoken publicly many times about both the proactive and reactive strategies it uses.
“We respect that many people may have ideas about solutions to crime, and we welcome feedback on all aspects of policing. Our district offices are in place for exactly that reason, to hear directly from the community,” said Schumann. “We also reach out to our citizens and give them ways to interact with police in relaxed environments, like ‘Coffee with a Cop,’ or neighbourhood safety meetings.” `
Scotty said RCMP will listen to and consider all feedback.
“The crime we’re seeing right now is a very complex issue, and policing is one small part of the broader societal response required,” remarked Schumann. “We are working diligently, not only on the investigations at hand, but also with many stakeholders dealing with the crime issues.”
With files from The Province