SURREY â€” An online survey found that more than half of Surrey residents identify crime as the most important issue facing their city.
In an Insights West poll, released March 7, it was found that 51 per cent of residents see crime as the number-one issue, well above transportation (18 per cent), poverty (six per cent) and education (six per cent).
This comes on the heels of Surrey setting a new murder record in 2013. The city recorded 25 homicides last year, while the previous record of 21 was set in 2005.
The poll also comes just two months after the murder of Julie Paskall, who died after being attacked outside Newton Arena on Dec. 29.
"It is rare to see crime registering at such as high level as what we see right now in Surrey," said Mario Canseco, vice president of public affairs at Insights West. "The survey shows that the population of the city is concerned about public safety on several facets, and not just as a detached issue for the municipal government to tackle."
In February, Mayor Dianne Watts rolled out a "relentless" plan to fight crime, as she provided an update on a task force she struck in November following the homicide murder record.
The plan included new crime-fighting initiatives such as a data bank, setting up CCTV surveillance cameras on major roads and hiring 24 Mounties over the next two years. Watts also said a 20-member community safety foot patrol will be dedicated to the district police stations.
Since Watts’ task force on homicides was struck last November, its high-risk location initiative has seen 175 arrests, 53 criminal charges recommended, more than 340 high-risk locations investigated and inspected, 15 search warrants executed, eight problem residences demolished or awaiting demolition, 144 unregulated recovery homes inspected, over $90,000 and 14 vehicles seized as crime-related property, and 122 street checks.
Meanwhile, it has since been announced that the Surrey RCMP Community Safety Officer program has been chopped in Surrey, and elsewhere in B.C. It was a provincial pilot project launched in 2008. In Surrey, 10 CSO positions will be affected and those officers will be assigned to different roles within the RCMP.
The Insights West survey also found that 48 per cent of Surrey residents believe the level of criminal activity in their community has increased in the past years, and 53 per cent say they fear becoming a victim of crime "a great deal" or "a fair amount."
As well, the survey found 48 per cent of Surrey residents claim they would feel "unsafe" if they were walking alone after dark. Just 22 per cent of Vancouverites surveyed expressed the same worry.
Twenty-eight per cent of Surrey residents said they had been victims of crime involving the police – such as an assault or a car break-in – over the past three years, compared to only 18 per cent in Vancouver.
"The concern over crime in Surrey is stated very personally in the unmistakable openness of residents to say that they would feel uneasy if they had to walk in their own neighbourhood at night," said Canseco.
Both Vancouver and Surrey residents place "a great deal" or a "fair amount of blame" for the public safety situation on a variety of things, but most believe it’s due to gangs and the illegal drug trade (91 per cent in Surrey and 76 per cent in Vancouver).
Other issues residents blamed were insufficient policing and lack of resources to combat crime (69 per cent in Surrey and 52 per cent in Vancouver), and an inadequate court system (75 per cent in Surrey and 68 per cent in Vancouver).
Surrey’s municipal government was rated favourably by a majority of residents for most of the items surveyed, such as providing good sanitation services (75 per cent), fostering cultural activities (66 per cent), protection of the environment (55 per cent), tourism promotion (55 per cent) and managing development and growth (55 per cent).
However, public support was lower for the way Surrey is dealing with transportation and implementing policies to help small business, both at 41 per cent.
The two worst rated areas for the municipal government were dealing with crime (26 per cent) and dealing with homelessness and poverty (24 per cent).
The survey also looked at Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts’ approval rating, which it found to be at 73 per cent, with 18 per cent of residents saying they disapprove of her performance and nine per cent remaining undecided.
"Mayor Watts holds enviable population numbers with an election looming this year," said Canseco.
The results are based on an online study conducted from Feb. 25 to March 1 among 495 adult Surrey residents and 478 in Vancouver. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age and gender and is considered accurate plus or minus four percentage points 19 times out of 20.
To see more, visit www.insightswest.com.
-With files from Tom Zytaruk