SURREY — How safe do businesses feel in Surrey?
This summer, interns at Surrey’s business improvement associations (BIAs) will be tasked to find out.
BIAs across the city are set to conduct surveys, or audits, of street-level businesses in their areas.
Surrey’s public safety director Terry Waterhouse said it’s intended “to determine what they see as the good things going on, but also the challenges.”
“It’s the BIAs doing it,” stressed Waterhouse, “we’re partnering with them to help and support them in any way we can, doing it with expertise, then collaborating together and responding. We think it’s a great way to strengthen the collaboration with the community.”
The Business Safety Survey project is part of the city’s new Public Safety Strategy, which was launched last year.
The city’s role, said Waterhouse, will be to work with each BIA to “provide expertise and training to students they use to conduct the surveys.”
A report to Surrey’s public safety committee on Monday (June 19) noted staff have secured “expert advice” from Dr. Irwin Cohen and Dr. Amanda McCormick of the University of the Fraser Valley to “strengthen the survey and provide training to the BIA staff and student interns on survey methodologies and processes.”
Once all the summer surveys are completed, Waterhouse said the plan is to hold an event where the students present their findings, and a workshop on how to best respond to the audits.
Waterhouse, who was hired to help create the city’s Public Safety Strategy that launched last fall, noted the program is built on a long-standing Downtown Surrey BIA program that has surveyed its member businesses on safety and crime since 2006.
“It’s taking that idea and working with all the BIAs across the city, then working with the city with all of our partners so we can take action,” he explained.
Last summer’s DSBIA audit suggested that more businesses in the city core were feeling unsafe than ever.
“It’s for a variety of reasons,” 2016 summer intern Alex Dibnah told the Now-Leader at the time, who for three years produced and analyzed the annual surveys for City Centre’s business group.
“A lot of it is social disorder-based, not necessarily full crimes, but the type of thing you see on the streets that make you feel unsafe — so discarded needles, people loitering, drug use,” said Dibnah. “We’re not entirely sure if that is going up or if it’s just their perceptions. But regardless of whether or not it’s happening, if that’s their perception, that’s their reality.”
The 62-page Safety Audit tracked changes in businesses’ perception of safety in their area, documented concerns and gathered recommendations for improving the safety of downtown Surrey.
In 2016, 205 businesses completed the survey and it uncovered a “significant sense of pessimism on the part of businesses as compared to last year (2015),” according to the report.
A total of 29 per cent of respondents felt the area had become less safe — the most ever in the audit’s history.
Businesses’ top four concerns last year were drug users (73.7 per cent), theft (62.9 per cent), drug dealing (59.5 per cent) and discarded needles (58.5 per cent).
Social services were a controversial topic in the 2016 audit in City Centre. When asked how social services in the area made them feel, most reported feeling neutral (52.7 per cent), while about 35 per cent felt less safe and noted that they attract “unsavoury people to the area” and “served as a magnet for disorder, bringing in crime.”
Businesses said they would like to see more support for vulnerable individuals, as well as more lighting and security features such as CCTV cameras.
At the time, Surrey Councillor Barbara Steele said she was “encouraged” by some of the report, noting that when you add up the percentage of businesses who felt either “about as safe as last year” (52.2 per cent) and “more safe” (18.5 per cent), that comes out to about 71 per cent.
“That’s an indication that we are doing some things right,” said Steele, who lives in the area.