SURREY — Newton’s getting some extra attention this year.
Each week, a group of officers who patrol the streets sit around a table in the Newton BIA office to discuss files and trends, and come up with weekly action plans.
Thing is, they’re not all cops.
In fact, only one is.
Surrey’s bylaw department just kicked off a pilot project in Newton, hiring four new staff to patrol the town centre, and in January, the Newton BIA took over Surrey’s contract with BC Commissionaires for eight-hour patrols seven days a week.
Together with RCMP and Surrey Crime Prevention Society programs, all of those patrolling the streets in the town centre meet every Tuesday.
It’s called the Newton Safety Unit (members pictured left).
“It has been an amazing success since the beginning of January. We’re engaging from the street curb to inside the business,” said BIA director Philip Aguirre, who organized the NSU.
“There’s lots of groups that meet regularly, but there’s not one group out there that meets on a weekly basis with the actual beat patrol.”
The NSU tends to focus on one topic or “hot spot” a week, Aguirre explained. Then, resources are strategically deployed from every stream to keep eyes on it at all times of day.
The Commissionaires, though recently hired by the BIA, have been patrolling Newton since 2014, shortly after the death of Julie Paskall outside Newton Arena.
BC Commissionaires CEO Dan Popowich is proud of the work since done.
“We’ve brought great change, along with everyone else at this table,” he remarked.
Newton’s collaborative, tiered approach to keep the streets safe is “leading edge,” he added.
Popowich said he tells other Commissionaires CEOs about the NSU and said, “Canada is watching this.”
Molly Green has been a Commissionaires officer in Newton since 2014 and said they are “bridging that gap between the community and police” and have “created a community where people are feeling safe to engage and walk around again.”
Green fondly refers to the program as the “social work of security” because they get to know the people on the streets and try to connect them with resources.
“It’s not just enforcement,” she said.
Meanwhile, Surrey’s new bylaw pilot project in Newton, which launched in January, is the first of its kind in the Lower Mainland, according to bylaw boss Jas Rehal.
The four new Community Patrol Officers, staffed through the city, have more enforcement powers than a security guard but less than a bylaw officer, said Rehal.
“Primarily they’re extra eyes. They’re engaging with businesses, the community, residents in the area,” he said.
He called it a “one-of-a-kind-program.”
Brad Sanchioni (pictured left) is one of the four new bylaw officers and described his role as proactive instead of reactive.
“We want to prevent crime before it happens,” he added.
Parm Prihar, district commander in Newton, is thrilled with the collaboration.
After each NSU meeting, he creates a to-do list for the following week, he said.
“I pick the most prolific offenders, that’s one category, the people that actually commit the crimes, the break-and-enters, the street-level drug,” Prihar said. “The second category is social chronic offenders… that are just a pain in the neck for us that don’t necessarily commit crime, but they’re loitering, they’re occupying bus benches.
“The third category that we focus on is problem properties.”
Prihar said together with the group, RCMP has taken some problem areas and cleaned them up, such as 70A Avenue.
The street has been a magnet for drug use, prostitution and public intoxication for decades.
All the partners are working to create a dog park there, dubbed Bark Park, to deter the nuisance activity.
“I think people in authority in the old days used to think, ‘We’ve got to figure it out. We know what we’re doing,’” Prihar said.
“Now we’re realizing no we don’t, there’s a lot smarter people out there. Nobody by themselves is an expert in really anything.”