SURREY — Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner is confident that “this too shall pass.”
She is of course referring to the relentless shooting spree that continued in Surrey this week. As of Wednesday morning there had been 32 shooting incidents since Jan. 1.
There have been three arrests related to the incidents.
Hepner said the city has made “significant progress” in this year’s shootings and the current violence is different than last year’s, in which the city saw 52 shootings.
A handful of the incidents are believed to be connected to a new drug war different from last year’s dial-a-dope turf war. Police haven’t put a name to the two groups but characterized them as “low-level” players.
Hepner urged the public to be patient.
“All that we can do at the front end is being done. We’ve now got to be patient with the RCMP. I meet everyday with the officer in command,” said Hepner. “I’m aware of how aggressive the operation is and that there are both obvious and not so obvious methods in play, and it’s very difficult as a mayor and as council to say, ‘Have patience,’ but there are some things we cannot currently disclose.”
Hepner noted that since last year’s gunplay, the city has ordered 100 new Mounties, hired director of public safety strategies Dr. Terry Waterhouse and last year made more than 800 arrests.
But that created a void. Those taken off the streets last year are being replaced and Hepner said, “therein lies the rub.”
The question has now become, how will Surrey put an end to that cycle?
Hepner said she spent her week speaking with her provincial and federal counterparts.
The “onerous” charge approval process in the province needs to be simplified, said Hepner. She’s been assured by the Minister of Public Safety that the government will look at “lessening that for things like gunplay.”
But long-term change must start with children, she said.
“Generally, when people go sideways or down the wrong track, they’re younger. And this city has more young people than any other place in the province of British Columbia. That’s a challenge.”
She said that’s why the city has focused on building facilities and developing programming for its young residents.
Surrey has “escalated” its youth-targeted programming, Hepner said, noting the gang-intervention “Wrap” program got new provincial dollars last year and that some of the new Surrey Mounties have allowed for a heavier school presence from RCMP.
The detachment is also looking at introducing cops to elementary schools, she said, in an effort to help young people be more comfortable with police.
“These programs are part of it but we also need community involvement,” she added.
While confident in police, Hepner remains concerned that an innocent person is going to get caught in the crossfire. Several of the shootings have happened in broad daylight.
The “wall of silence” from families of suspects has broken down a bit since last year, but Hepner said it still exists. She had strong words for those people.
“If the well-being of the community isn’t enough to motivate you to action — which by the way it should be, but if it is not enough — then just think about your loved ones themselves because there is no fairy tale ending to this story. This kind of lifestyle will only end in jail or a toe tag. A coffin. There are no other options. There is no pretty ending.”
Surrey’s top cop Bill Fordy, in an interview on radio station PulseFM, said, “there must be some issue related to pride or embarrassment that is culturally linked,” seeing as the vast majority of the suspects are young men from the South Asian communities.
“We really need to change the trajectory of these young men,” he remarked.
On CKNW, Surrey RCMP Supt. Shawn Gill said the city’s “exponential growth” is a “significant challenge.”
“We’ve probably got the largest youth population in the Lower Mainland. So that’s a challenge,” he noted.
Hepner agreed but said “to stop the city from developing would put a roadblock on the economy.”
“We are known to be a place where people can have an affordable place to raise their family,” she said. “As soon as we construct them, families are ready to move into them. That creates an economic engine in our city that is vitally important.”
While growth is a challenge, she said the city met it head on by bringing in 100 new officers.
“The reason that we did it in one fell swoop was the result of a study that said we have not kept up. So now here they are… and we’re adding 16 more this year so now we have the opportunity to keep that momentum going – to do the upkeep that is required annually.”
With files from Tom Zytaruk