When will our city be safer?

Fix Surrey’s crime problem? To echo the words of Del Griffith, frustrated politicians and police might be feeling they’d have more luck playing pickup sticks with their butt cheeks.

Decades have come and gone – and city councils, MLAs, MPs and police chiefs along with them – yet crime continues to dog this city like no other issue.

Consider this week’s news, so far. Property crimes are up by 27 per cent this quarter over the same time last year, with 8,857 offences compared to 6,962 and crime, overall, is up 21 per cent, with 12,310 criminal code offences compared to 10,195, Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains, at a recent press conference, cited a survey of Surrey residents wherein more than 50 per cent of respondents identified crime as their city’s number-one issue.

"When the same question was put to Vancouver people, only 20 per cent said crime was the number one issue," Bains noted.

Usually Whalley and Newton take the spotlight where criminal activity is concerned, but this week a swank neighbourhood in Tynehead, replete with houses that’d pass for castles, is also drawing infamy. Plagued by break-ins, vandalism and at least one home invasion, 14 of 31 households have been victimized there over the past nine months.

Sadhu Gill has lived on 93B Avenue for nearly eight years. It’s been good living, he said, until about a year and a half ago. After his house was broken into in March, he started talking with neighbours and learned that out of 31 houses, criminals targeted nearly half. Baldev Saran was relaxing at home when three people broke in, taking his cell phone, his wife’s purse and a precious watch that had belonged to his late son. He was terrorized, abused and physically attacked.

"We don’t feel secure in our own houses, not even in the daytime," Gill said. "We have to put our alarms on, even in the daytime. I’m thinking I’m blaming our madam mayor."

Gill is not happy with how police have handled his break-in.

"The police man who attended our robbery, our break-in, we called him – maybe 10 times my wife left a message – no response," Gill said. "We have to get serious."

He said he’s contacted the mayor’s office, and his Surrey-Tynehead Liberal MLA Amrik Virk, a former RCMP inspector.

"He said he can’t do anything, except he can write a letter to the superintendent of the police," Gill said.

Virk told the Now that, while crime in B.C. has dropped to its lowest level in decades, "more can be done, and must be done, to improve safety in Surrey.

"As a father, I understand how important it is to feel our loved ones are protected. As a veteran police officer, having spent 26 years with the RCMP, I’m aware of the unique challenges faced by law enforcement."

Virk said both he and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton are having "ongoing discussions" with Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and RCMP brass.

"I want to see city hall step up and be accountable to our community," Virk said. "The municipality must do better at managing its resources and accepting responsibility to citizens."

After speaking with Virk, Gill contacted Surrey NDP MLAs Bruce Ralston, Sue Hammell and Harry Bains, and they staged a press conference in his cul-de-sac.

"People are telling us they’re afraid to leave their homes, to go to work. Their privacy is invaded," Bains said.

"Based on the complaints that we are hearing, people think that the crime is reaching an epidemic level.

"If you listen to the public, if you listen to residents, many people will tell you they have stopped phoning police because when they phone police cannot respond.

"Unless it’s a life or death situation, they respond hours late, or next day, or never."

As for the Tynehead neighbourhood, Cpl. Bert Paquet says Surrey RCMP is on the case, with the local district commander having met with the Tynehead Community Association in February to discuss crime trends.

"At that time, the most popular issue raised by the attendees to that meeting was mailbox thefts," he said.

"Our officers are actively following up on some leads that could potentially link a specific group of criminals to the majority of residential break and enter cases targeting our community."

Bruce Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley, noted that if you don’t feel safe in your own home, little else matters. The provincial government, he said, "has not moved very far" in controlling crime.

"They do have a task force that’s looking at crime prevention but it hasn’t reported out yet. The municipality seems to be preoccupied with other, more political issues rather than this issue itself," he said.

As the federal government prosecutes drug crimes and runs the parole system, Ralston noted, each level of government has an important role in keeping crime down, and needs to work together.

"It’s not just the incidence of crime, but it’s also the causes of crime," said Ralston, a lawyer. "Drug addiction and mental illness fuel many of the activities that you see that motivate break-ins; people looking for items to pawn and sell to buy drugs."

Hammell, like many of her Surrey-Green Timbers constituents, wants to see more police hired.

"We have fewer police per capita than any other community in the Metro Vancouver area and what we need is a more robust police system that responds quickly to the calls when people call them and need them," she said.

Last Friday, after an elderly woman and her daughter were found dead under suspicious circumstances in Bolivar Heights, Surrey Coun. Barinder Rasode called on her colleagues to hire 45 new officers this year, "in addition to the 60 new officers already announced in the five-year plan released last year.

"We have fallen behind in the hiring of officers, and as a result, our crime rate has risen and people are telling me they no longer feel safe," Rasode said.

See also MICHAEL BOOTH > page 12 In April, the city’s police committee endorsed a plan to hire 95 officers over five years. The 95 included 60 already on the books – 12 per year – for the next five years.

Then, on Monday, the police committee approved plans to hire 30 officers in 2014, 18 more than the 12 originally planned for in the budget. Money for 18 additional officers is available through cost savings within the RCMP, said Chief Supt. Bill Fordy.

Currently, the Surrey RCMP detachment has 673 officers. That will be brought up to 703 this year with the additional 30 officers.

But even with the increase, Surrey still won’t hit the target of one police officer to every 700 residents or better, as laid out in its own Crime Reduction Strategy.

With a projected population of roughly 510,000 in 2014, a total of 703 officers will mean one officer for every 725 people: the city would still need 26 new officers to hit the target.

Bains noted that while Vancouver currently has over 200 police officers per 100,000 residents, Surrey has 137.

"We are way, way short," he said. Naida Robinson, a community activist from Newton, said that after crunching the numbers she figures that in order to keep up with population growth, Surrey should be getting three new officers every two months.

Laura Parker, of Newton, said she doesn’t feel safe carrying a purse as she walks from her car to a grocery store.

"I shouldn’t have to feel that way." Parker moved out of Strawberry Hill "just to get away from the crime, and to feel safer in my own home," she said. "There’s never leaving the door unlocked anymore, that’s never an option."

Rashpal Atwal, another Newton resident, is fed up with his community mailbox being broken into "all the time."

"They were broken into about four times in two months," Atwal said. "We have to go to Cloverdale to pick up our mail.

Sometimes we don’t get the mail for a long time. Also, the gang people hang around in our cul-de-sac all the time. When we phone the police and they start asking questions, we get no response. They say they’re not doing anything wrong, and they don’t show up."

Meanwhile, Newton and Whalley have once again proven to be home to the majority of Surrey’s violent crimes.

There were 1,370 violent crimes reported in the first three months of this year, compared to 1,346 in 2013. This year, 889 were in Newton and Whalley, with 878 in those communities in last year’s first quarter. Homicides took a major dip – 91 per cent – in the first three months of this year compared to 2013 with one homicide across the city, compared to 11 during the same time last year.

Meanwhile, property crimes have gone up 27 per cent in the first quarter of this year, compared to last, with the majority being in Newton. To see the whole report, visit www.thenownewspaper.com.

Speaking to the property crime increases, Sgt. Dale Carr said "it’s because we had to do a redeployment of some of our resources. We had noticed a trend in a couple of crimes against persons that we wanted to focus our attention on, to try to get to the bottom of. Those took a great deal of resources."

He said property crimes investigators were redeployed, because they’re skilled at surveillance, to resolve those files. "Just last week, we released the charge of three South Asian males that had been charged in relation to some sexual assaults on some vulnerable women.

"That’s one of the three files we were working on over the last quarter."

Those officers who were redeployed to these investigations have since resumed their regular duties investigating property crimes, Carr said.

tzytaruk@thenownewspaper.com areid@thenownewspaper.com

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