Surrey’s drive-by shooting epidemic is getting attention at the highest level in Victoria.
When Surrey-Green Timbers NDP MLA Sue Hammell asked a question of Solicitor General Mike Morris in the provincial legislature last Wednesday, she and others were surprised when Premier Christy Clark stood up to answer. Clark often doesn’t answer questions directed at her, and she is not always there for question period in the legislature. Her appearance on April 6 was the first after spring break.
Clark’s response indicated the shootings (there have been more than 30 so far this year) were extremely troubling to the government. There are significant political consequences if this trend continues.
One year from now, provincial politicians will be in the midst of an election campaign. The eight Surrey seats are a key battleground, with five now held by the B.C. Liberals and three by the NDP. The capture of Surrey-Fleetwood by Liberal candidate Peter Fassbender in the 2013 election was a key win and a prime example of how Clark managed to bring the B.C. Liberals back to win an election that the pollsters and observers said she would lose.
Clark told Hammell in the legislature the government would “do more” to combat the tide of shootings. She wants people in Surrey to feel safe. Last Friday, Morris was in Surrey to outline some immediate measures to deal with the problem.
At present, the province and the RCMP aren’t planning to spend additional money to investigate the shooting spree. Rather, a number of specialized RCMP task forces and units are putting more personnel and energy into policing in Surrey. These include the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, an End Gang Life campaign, canine units, major crime investigators and air support.
The city, meanwhile, is now going to give the RCMP 24-hour access to its 330 traffic cameras, and is planning to add 75 more. Why the police have not had this immediate access before is a concern, considering this latest shooting spree is merely a continuance of one that took place over much of 2015.
Apparently, police have had access to the information from these cameras before, but it was based on when city hall staff were on duty. Now the images will go directly to the RCMP detachment. Given that most of these shootings involve people in cars with guns, and take place in the evening or overnight, real-time access to the cameras will be important for police.
Overall, the response is a pretty good start. It is obvious the province, the city and the RCMP want to reduce, if not eliminate, the indiscriminate shootings – particularly if they lead to killings or serious injury, particularly of innocent people.
Since the press conference on Friday, police have been more visible in many parts of Surrey. Hopefully, this will continue indefinitely. Taxpayers are paying a significant amount for the 100 additional RCMP officers the city has hired, and police visibility an important deterrent to many types of crime.
Additional funds are going to WRAP, a partnership involving Surrey School District, RCMP and the city. It has won acclaim for its efforts to keep at-risk youth out of the gang and criminal lifestyle, and expansion of this program may be one of the best uses of funds.
Surrey RCMP want to get to the bottom of the shootings. Police are as frustrated as members of the public are. Dealing with this issue won’t be simple and will require a great deal of effort on the part of all involved.
That includes members of the public, who need to let police know what they see in their neighbourhoods, even if it seems somewhat insignificant.
Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for The Leader.