COLUMN: Making Surrey safer

A string of horrific crimes in 2013 and 2014 focused public attention on the acute shortage of police officers.

Surrey RCMP has received 34 cadets from the RCMP training facility in Regina, as of the end of March.

There are still 100 more to come. The RCMP expects that most of them will be in place by the end of this year.

There was much discussion of adding more police officers during the municipal election last fall. Winning mayoralty candidate Linda Hepner pledged that 100 would be added and taxes have been raised to help pay for this significant expansion. The police strength is set to go up by about 12 per cent in one year.

More RCMP officers in Surrey are welcome and long overdue. Chief Supt. Bill Fordy says many will be placed on general duty, with others in traffic. These officers are the most visible, and police visibility is badly needed in many parts of Surrey.

In the first three months of 2015, there has been a string of drive-by shootings, gang retaliation shootings, several murders and a significant amount of mayhem on the roads.

This includes the deaths of a woman who was riding a scooter and a homeless man pushing a shopping cart.

The community of Newton remains fearful about the safety of people. Concerns about unlicensed drug recovery homes remain. Surrey’s population continues to increase significantly.

There are many other reasons there needs to be far more police officers visible on the streets and ready to respond to emergencies. This is a very big and very busy city, and the needs of the community grow more complex each year.

The response to homelessness from all levels of government has been underwhelming.

The whole area of policing has been poorly handled by Surrey council for many years. Politicians have been more concerned about keeping taxes low than having enough police to deal with the needs of a growing community. Given that Surrey is a young community demographically, and that young people are often disproportionately involved in crimes, both as victims and perpetrators, this is unacceptable.

A string of horrific crimes in 2013 and 2014 focused public attention on the acute shortage of police, and thankfully, all three major mayoralty candidates put a lot of emphasis on the issue. The issues around crime, and the three-way race for mayor, brought more people out to the polls. Since the election, there have been few complaints about paying more money for more police.

Much more needs to be done. There needs to be much more emphasis on crime  prevention, neighbourhood programs, youth engagement and anti-gang measures.

Many of the community approaches do not require police officers, or at least not too many of them. There are people in the city who are happy to volunteer.

The RCMP, city council and the city government in general needs to take advantage of the high level of public interest in reducing crime.

It’s good that more police are on the way, but in the meantime, pro-active approaches to crime prevention can be initiated.

Such programs, when they work closely with police, can make a substantial difference.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of the Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

 

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