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Surrey mayor unveils her ideas to combat gang violence

Mayor strikes task force, calls for Bar Watch program and wants review of charge approval process
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner (Black Press file photo)

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner says she has come up with several initiatives to combat gang violence in the city.

So far this year, Surrey has seen 31 shootings. Police believe many are connected to drugs and gangs.

At a Surrey Board of Trade event Tuesday night, Hepner told a business crowd of her plans, which include activating a Bar Watch program in Surrey to make gangsters feel “uncomfortable,” initiating a review of B.C.’s Crown approval process in an effort to bring the province’s threshold for charges in line with others, and the creation of a Mayor’s Task Force.

Hepner told the Now-Leader her task force will assess and review the city’s programs, including police, civic and those offered by service providers.

“This is based on how we are doing things in a preventative fashion,” she said. “It’s my intention to have representatives on that task force that are within the service agencies but also to include all levels of government and the media as well as full-on community representation. I want to get a really well-rounded approach to what is the opinion of all those in these various sectors.”

Hepner said she wants to “see where there are gaps or where there are successes.”

The aim is to assess and analyze all the programs that exist, and to find overlap.

“Should we join together and do this because it would use less funding and open up a spot here?” said Hepner. “I’ve got my public safety director working on terms of reference right now and expect to get invitations going out to various groups in September as well as a call for community representatives.”

Hepner told the Now-Leader she is also calling on the attorney general to review the Crown’s charge-approval process and said she sent a letter this week to formalize her request.

“Our process currently is more onerous and restrictive in advancing prosecutions, particularly related to gang and gun violence,” she said. “The intent is how we can have the threshold match other provinces in the country.”

Meantime, Hepner said she is working with Surrey RCMP’s Officer in Charge, Dwayne McDonald, to launch a Bar Watch Program.

The program would allow police to ask those known to associate with gangs to leave establishments.

“The intent here is to increase scrutiny on gang members who frequent establishments, but really ensuring that the environment is an unwelcome one (for gangsters). Wherever you are in this city, I want you to be in an unwelcome environment.”

The key, she said, is getting businesses on board.

“Sometimes they come with a lot of money,” she said about gangsters.

Meantime, Hepner said she wants to get the city’s planned Community Safety Village off the ground and that an update on the project is expected in the fall.

A city report from 2015 explains the “safety village” concept is based on other Canadian communities with such facilities, like Calgary.

The village would have child-sized buildings and cars, and teach children about public safety, including drugs and gangs, but also road safety, bullying and other themes.

“I’m going to need funders, not only from government, but technology corporate partners,” she said.

In addition to the other initiatives, Hepner told the Now-Leader she would be launching an award for civic responsibility for schools that have “demonstrated their commitment to instilling community values in Surrey’s youth.”

She’s not sure of the amount of the annual award, but said in the neighbourhood of $10,000.

“I want those doing outstanding work or special curriculum work on creating a city built on co-operation, respect and citizenship,” said Hepner.

“I know when I was growing up, we had what was called a civic class to help us understand our civic role in the community and I would like something like that to be demonstrated in a particular program in schools.”