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South Surrey crime watchers call on RCMP for better communication

Block Watch signs dot South Surrey
Block Watch signs dot South Surrey's Grandview Heights neighbourhood.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes photo

Block Watch captains in the Grandview Heights area of South Surrey say they are frustrated by a lack of communication from police and what they describe as a “one-way flow” of information around crimes occurring in their neighbourhood.

“It’s what we call the bottomless pit of one-way information,” said Peter Tilbury, longtime captain of the Country Woods Block Watch group, representing 93 residences.

“They’re always asking us to report stuff to them, and we do… but we never get any feedback from them on any cases…. We’ve complained about it for years. You ask them for information and you just get nothing back.”

According to Surrey RCMP Sgt. Alanna Dunlop, communication with Block Watch captains is among areas under review as part of a City of Surrey reorganization of RCMP volunteers that began in recent weeks.

The communication review is “to ensure continued effectiveness of the relationship and the program,” Dunlop told Peace Arch News this week after hearing of concerns.

Dunlop described the relationship between Surrey RCMP, the City of Surrey and Block Watch volunteers as a good one. The reorganization that’s underway, she said, is “to provide more consistency and oversight for the program,” which has also seen some changes in personnel.

The role of Block Watch as a neighbourhood watch program is most successful “when residents work closely together with other residents and police,” she noted.

Such volunteer programs are “built on relationships,” she said.

“Part of that is an open line of communication. Part of our review will be looking at that.”

Tilbury said captains of Grandview Heights Block Watch groups met early this month to discuss the issue, following an incident police described as an “interrupted break-and-enter.”

It “brought issues to the forefront,” Tilbury said.

The Sept. 29 crime occurred around 4 a.m. in the 17100-block of 26A Avenue, when a resident awoke to find “two white males” in her home.

When the incident was reported to police – nearly three hours later – officers canvassed the neighbourhood looking for anyone who had seen or heard anything that might help them locate the perpetrators.

But Tilbury said that, although the Block Watch network could have been an asset to investigators, in terms of distributing the appeal for witnesses in a more widespread and timely manner, they were never alerted.

“Police didn’t go to Block Watch and say, can your members shed some light on this – which is what Block Watch is for,” he said.

Grandview Acres Block Watch captain Gary Cameron agreed the incident was serious enough that local Block Watch captains “should have been notified immediately.”

There was also no alert to the general public regarding the at-large culprits (Surrey RCMP’s Cpl. Scotty Schumann said last week that no arrests had been made in connection with the incident, and that the investigation is ongoing).

The Block Watch captains say another frustration with the  system is that crime data for the area isn’t shared.

Knowing how many attempted and successful crimes are occurring, and what kind of crimes they are, they say, would help identify where they can take steps.

It would help them know if additional alerts – of an impending crime wave, perhaps – would be helpful and also if their perception of crime in the neighbourhood is accurate, they suggest.

“Perhaps police don’t want the public at large to know how many crimes go unsolved or how many attempt-crimes occur,” Tilbury said.

“We feel there’s been an increase in both vehicle break-ins and home break-ins in the last six months. But it’s a feeling we can’t prove, because we can’t get the statistics.”

Cameron agreed, adding that understanding the scope of the problem would assist residents to lobby for more police attention “if, indeed, our crime problem is as serious as we think it is.”

Schumann noted Surrey crime statistics are available on the detachment’s website, “to everyone, all the time, for the last several years, and updated each quarter with the most recent stats.”

For District 5 (South Surrey), the latest statistics available are for the second quarter of 2016, and provide a total number of occurrences for offences ranging from homicide to mischief.

But, by comparison, the Vancouver Police Department posts weekly crime-report statistics, with data pulled from the Police Records Information Management Environment (PRIME), including the date of offences, the timeframe of the offence, the neighbourhood involved and even the street number and block. As of Wednesday, incidents reported as recently as Oct. 18 appeared on the weekly report.

Dunlop said Surrey’s third-quarter statistics are due to be posted at the end of October. Data is also available through the City of Surrey’s COSMOS site, she said.

Judy Kern, 31 Avenue Block Watch captain, said, however, that COSMOS is also not up-to-date – and “useless” due to the limited number of offence categories that are tracked.

She agreed that current crime trends should be shared.

“It’s a heads-up and an alert – just be a little extra vigilant that something may be coming your way,” she said. “I think that would help keep crime down.

“The whole thing is to keep ahead of the criminals,” she said.

While Kern suspects cost, privacy and resources are among factors limiting the requested disclosures – points she concedes are valid – she noted that residents are rarely even told when police are successful in catching a suspect that Block Watch members’ information led them to.

“That kind of feedback from police to Block Watch, showing a positive result, goes a long way to staying enthused,” she said.

“There’s something wrong with this system that they’re encouraging we participate in.”

None of the captains criticized police response to calls for assistance, and Tilbury said the perceived lack of communication is not dampening the resolve of Block Watch members to do their part in crime prevention.

But he believes if communication were better, more citizens would be encouraged to report crimes that they have either witnessed, or are victims of.

“We would get far more reports if we could get feedback from police,” he said. “Especially, the good-news stories.”

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