FOCUS: Surrey fire chief aims to turn the page on crime

Len Garis co-edits book that looks at new ways to design out crime

Surrey’s fire chief Len Garis has co-edited a book that aims to help local governments both evaluate and put into practice new ways to tackle crimes in their own communities.

You’ve got your cracking down on crime, your stamping out crime and even taking a bite out of crime.

But designing out crime?

Len Garis helped write a book on it.

“It’s good for everybody,” he says.

When it comes to a book about designing out crime, you’d think its editor would be a police chief, not a fire chief. Garis, Surrey’s fire chief, lets out a hearty laugh at the observation.

“You have to sort of exchange that hat for a minute,” he says.

“I actually have two jobs.”

Beside being Surrey’s fire chief Garis is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Fraser Valley’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research.

He’s also an Associate to the Centre for Social Research at UFV, a member of the Affiliated Research Faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and a faculty member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University.

Garis has co-edited a book with professor Paul Maxim of Wilfred Laurier University titled Designing Out Crime, which aims to help local governments nationwide both evaluate and put into practice new ways to tackle problems in their own communities.

It focuses on what they can do to “design out” crime “so that it is less likely to happen in the first instance.”

“I’ve been in the public safety business for probably 35 years – a long time, right?” Garis notes. “And so recognizing that, I guess my best metaphor is the justice system, in some cases, has been, or is lead to believe, is somewhat overused. In other words, in some types of situations it is losing its effectiveness.

“What Designing Out Crime does, is it looks at the crime prevention through environmental design principles. It also looks at different ways of solving problems, using technology, using different bylaws and administrative law to solve those things.”

The 114-page book, published on Nov. 8, can be downloaded for free at Crj.ufv.ca and features six chapters written by North American criminologists and academics Gurvir Brar, Kevin Burk, Irwin Cohen, Yvon Dandurand, Jordan Diplock, Trevor Johnson, Darryl Plecas and Julia Shuker from the UFV; Adrienne Peters from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Tim Croisdale from California State University, Sacramento.

“We created the chapter headings, what we thought they would be, and then we collected some academics together, who are the chapter authors, and we put them together, and Paul and I pulled this thing together and edited them into this Designing Out Crime.”

The chapters cover tips on problem-solving, administrative and regulatory approaches, transitions and social programming, designing out opportunities for crime, designing out crime through technology, and “Doing Something about Prolific Offenders.”

As no city is the same, Garis notes, each can cherry pick from the information provided according to its own unique needs.

“Prince George may see some value in certain aspects, or they may not, as maybe Surrey does,” Garis said. “But one thing we do know, in public safety, and I’m careful to respect the fact that police officers do a great job and it’s not a criticism, but I know that public safety is becoming extremely expensive despite the fact that crime and fires are all going down right across the country, and yet it’s cost us more.

“This may help us to contain some of those costs,” Garis said. “We need to look for different ways at solving some of our problems because it is quite expensive.”

Indeed, the book notes that governments in Canada collectively spend more than $8 billion per year on police services to combat crime and more than $20 billion annually on the criminal justice system.

Garis launches into a metaphor he uses in a graduate class he teaches, to illustrate the need for new ideas when it comes to crime prevention.

“Not all bugs need drugs. And why? It’s because if you overuse the penicillins and those types of things you develop an immune system to it. And that’s somewhat like the justice system, is that we probably overuse it in a lot of areas and now it’s developed the resilience to sort-of the smaller crimes and we’re having difficulty solving these things with the same system. And this is designed to generate more creative ways of solving problems.”

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner wrote the foreword for Designing Out Crime. She noted that much of the information contained in the book isn’t new to criminologists but “unfortunately, much of this material has not made it from the professional literature to those of us responsible for implementing crime-reduction strategies at the local level.”

Not until now, that is.

As for Surrey, Hepner told the Now it “would certainly be our intention to utilize it within our bylaw, police and fire service.”

tom.zytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

 

 

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