BOOTH: An organized community can fight crime just as effectively as cops

The reaction was predictable.

Last week when the bodies of two women were discovered in a home in Whalley, the hue and cry for more police officers to patrol Surrey’s environs arose.

As was expected, Surrey Coun. Barinder Rasode – whose newfound affection for microphones and television camera lights has turned her into a human moth – was quick to respond, issuing a press release demanding 45 RCMP officers immediately be hired to ensure such tragedies don’t happen again. This is in addition to the 60 new officers – 12 per year – already budgeted for the next five years.

In April, the city’s police committee endorsed a plan to increase the number to 95 officers over the next five years. On Monday, the committee endorsed another plan to hire 30 officers this year instead of the 12 originally budgeted for.

And Surrey streets will once again be safe for children on bicycles, little old ladies toddling off to bingo and people in wheelchairs wishing to make late night bank deposits in Newton.

One small problem: the demise of the two women was not a result of gang bangers or drug addicts or a home invasion gone wrong. These deaths turned out to be a family tragedy and no amount of police officers lining the streets could have prevented it. Not 12, not 30, not 95, not even 905.

This is not to say that Surrey does not need an increase in police staffing. Currently, the Surrey RCMP detachment boasts 673 officers, a number that will grow to 703 this year with the additional 30 officers.

The City of Surrey’s Crime Reduction strategy calls for one police officer for every 700 residents. With a projected population of roughly 510,000 in 2014, that means one officer for every 725 people. Under these guidelines, Surrey will still need another 25 new RCMP officers to hit its own target for this year.

Put another way, Vancouver has roughly 200 officers for every 100,000 residents while Surrey has to make do with 137 for the same number of residents.

So there is definitely a need for more police officers in the province’s second largest municipality. But to suggest that unleashing a brigade or two of police officers will solve all of Surrey’s crime problems borders on the naïve.

More officers on the beat alone will not turn Surrey into a crime-free utopia. It takes action by the members of the public as well as the officers in uniform to make the community safe.

I am fortunate enough to live in a neighbourhood where people pay attention to what is going on around them. When we first moved into the neighbourhood, there was a Block Watch program in the area. Everybody who lived in the neighbourhood had a list of their neighbours and a contact number where they could be reached in an emergency.

The woman who spearheaded the neighbourhood group moved away and the Block Watch plan sort of fell by the wayside. Just because it is gone doesn’t mean its spirit has also disappeared.

If anyone wanders through taking a little extra time to assess their surroundings, they can count on being noticed. Cars parked at the side of the road with occupants eyeballing the houses will have their license plates noted. We all know each other and watch out for each other.

One day last year I was foolish enough to leave the garage door open. Two different neighbours noticed it and went so far as to come over and check to make sure everything was OK. They set off the house alarm in the process, but paying the city’s fine for false alarm was acceptable given the knowledge that my neighbours were watching out for me when I wasn’t home.

An organized neighbourhood or community can be just as effective in reducing crime as hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on police cruisers and red serge uniforms.

The Port Kells Residents’ Association and the West Panorama Ridge Ratepayers Association have both organized in their respective communities and have had an impact on the illicit activities there. Both groups are very active at identifying the issues arising in their community and forwarding the information on to city hall for action.

We live in a society where we are increasingly isolated from our neighbours despite our penchant for living so close to each other we can swipe Wi-Fi signals.

Policing in this environment is a difficult task and the first lines of communication should not be a telephone call to the RCMP when something has turned sour.

That conversation needs to be with each other so we can create environments where the bad guys do not feel comfortable and will move on to other, less risky communities.

Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@thenownewspaper.com

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