CRIME PREVENTION SOCIETY: Armed with radios, scanners and only the power to observe, we follow a team of volunteers as they patrol the City of Surrey.
FIRST IN A SERIES: As news surrounding Surrey’s RCMP dominates headlines, we look at different ways residents are helping make our city safer.
In a dimly lit parking lot in a Newton industrial area on a clear Thursday night, eight young people jump into vehicles.
Equipped with radios and emergency scanners, they head out to patrol Surrey’s roads.
“Stay safe,” leader Mateen Aminie tells his team.
“Whiskey One to base,” Jerry Gunadasa says into the radio as the van pulls out onto 82nd Avenue.
It’s 9 p.m. and the team’s shift is under way. It will end at 2 a.m.
This is the Citizen’s Community Safety Watch, a Surrey Crime Prevention Society program that runs Thursday through Sunday.
SCPS volunteers, who serve as extra eyes and ears on the street, made 831 calls to law enforcement that generated files in 2015 – an average of more than two a day.
On this night I’m tagging along with Aminie, a longtime volunteer turned staff member, and two volunteers, Gunadasa and Melvyn Mani.
Our first patrol was around the Newton bus loop. As it turns out, it’s also where Aminie was hit over the head with a bat and mugged at just 14. It’s what spurred him to dedicate his life to public safety.
At 12:30 a.m. on a snowy January 2011 night, Aminie was coming home from his job at Five Guys Burgers in South Surrey and had his ear phones in.
The next thing he knew, he awoke at home the next morning.
Apparently, the blow to the head had knocked him out cold, and three men then kicked him in the face and robbed him. He woke up with a bruised and cut face, a black eye and broken teeth.
He later found out a cab driver had driven by and called police.
“That was the starting point for wanting to help,” he said as we passed the very spot he was attacked.
“It’s ironic that the police office, the Newton District 3 office, is right there,” he remarked, pointing.
Aminie, now 20, had immigrated to Canada just one year before the attack.
“Back home (in Pakistan), people hate the police. They take bribes, they take your money. If they pull you over, they’ll steal whatever you have,” he told me.
But the positive interaction he had with police here in Surrey changed his perception. Inspired, he now patrols the very area he was mugged.
“When I go home, I feel good about it. Even if we didn’t do much, maybe we deterred something from happening,” Aminie said.
The Citizen’s Community Safety Watch is just one of Aminie’s gigs. He also works full-time as a Richmond bylaw officer, and is enrolled in the Justice Institute.
Like many other SCPS volunteers on duty that night, his sights are set on becoming an officer.
“Let’s hope I make it through, I’m almost there,” he said. “It’s a demanding process.”
It’s now about 9:15 p.m. and we take off down King George Boulevard, heading to the heart of Whalley. That’s where most of the action is, Aminie tells me.
“There are lots of fights happening around Gateway (SkyTrain), we come across that quite a bit. Blood, everything.”
Hot spots for undesirable activity tend to be SkyTrain stations and bus loops, as well as one street in particular, 135A Street.
That’ll be our next stop.
As we roll in, we see at least two dozen people walking or sitting along the roadway. Tents and bikes line the chain-link fence across from the emergency shelter.
As we approach 108th Avenue, we notice a newer black truck parked on the right side of the road.
It seems we’ve caught the tail-end of a street brawl between two men.
One in a black sweatsuit is still huffing and puffing, breathing heavily with a crazed look in his eye. He let’s out a bark-like “woof” sound.
The other, dressed in a white “wife-beater” T-shirt and light blue jeans, is pulling his baggy pants up. He’s brandishing something black, which he slips into his pocket.
“Is that a knife? Does he have a knife?” Aminie asks us.
“Are you going to leave soon?” he yells over to the man, who then approaches the vehicle.
Just two inches away from Aminie’s face at the open window, blood drips from his lip.
“Yeah, I’m good, I’m good. I’m leaving,” the man responds.
He then walks away.
“It’s worse sometimes,” Aminie reveals. “This one guy had cuts on his face, it was slashed all over… If it continues and they don’t stop, then we call the police.”
Pulling over, we keep our eyes peeled on the man in white. He soon walks back toward the black truck.
“He’s going to get his ass kicked again,” says a frustrated Aminie.
It’s tough to only have the power to observe, he tells me.
“We can’t come into contact, we’re not trained to do so. As a police officer you have the freedom to do so. It just bugs me.
“We’re going to have a long night,” he says as he pulls off of 135A.
Aminie never knows what to expect out on patrol. Some nights are boring and uneventful, others full of excitement and intensity.
One memory sticks in his mind.
“This car came by with a huge dent in its fender. As it was driving off the tire was smoking and screeching. It looked very suspicious.”
He called police.
“I told them the plate and right away, eight cruisers flew in. It was gang-related. Right when they got there they busted into the house…. It was a big show.”
There’s also the strange.
One night he saw a woman, whom he described as mentally ill, walking barefoot over gravel. He tried to give her his shoes – he had a spare pair – but she barely noticed and just carried on yelling gibberish.
Then there was the team who heard a woman’s screams in the back of a truck and chased two suspected kidnappers all the way to North Vancouver before police intercepted.
Aminie told me another story, though he wasn’t on shift this particular night: Tragedy struck when a group of drunk kids were hanging out near the fishing docks.
“They decided it would be fun to hop on the train that came by and hang off of it while it’s moving. One of the girls fell and she lost her whole arm. She was screaming for help and drunk, and her friends couldn’t help because they were drunk too.”
The volunteers called an ambulance and did what they could.
“At the end of the day, we’re not supposed to get out of the car. But to help out, that’s just human nature, right?”
WORKING TO PREVENT CRIME SINCE 1982
Surrey Crime Prevention Society is a volunteer-based organization that acts independently from the RCMP. It gets its funding from the city, the province and corporate sponsors.
More than 300 volunteers committed nearly 30,000 hours to the Surrey in 2015.
The group started in 1982 and its programming includes Community Safety Tours, Citizen’s Community Safety Watch (highlighted in this story), a Traffic Safety program, graffiti removal, youth programs and more.
SCPS provides support at the annual Vaisakhi Parade, Fusion Festival, Cloverdale Rodeo and more, attending 63 special events in 2015.
NEXT WEEK: In Part 2 of our series, Tom Zytaruk analyzes the turmoil surrounding the RCMP’s Auxiliary Constable program.