Opinion

COLUMN: Increase city’s security

The outpouring of anger over the shocking death of Julie Paskall, who was beaten outside Newton Arena on Dec. 29 while waiting for her 16-year-old son, is getting attention across the country.

The connection to a community hockey rink may be one of the reasons, as every Canadian community closely identifies with rinks, which are often an important meeting place.

But what also attracts the attention is the unprovoked nature of the attack, and the fact that it was Surrey’s 25th murder of the year – an all-time high and a completely unacceptable number.

A task force had already been called by Mayor Dianne Watts before Paskall’s murder, given the high number of homicides in Surrey, which showed no sign of abating as the year ended.

One result is a large number of RCMP officers, who have been stationed in South Surrey, are being redeployed to Newton and Whalley. This has led to White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin using the occasion to boast about the benefit of his city having its own RCMP detachment.

An overflowing community meeting Monday night showed that the concerns in Newton about the conditions in the area are very high. A second meeting is planned.

Hopefully, in all the discussion about Paskall’s murder, somebody pays attention to an excellent letter to the editor from Sheena Wilkie, published in the Surrey Leader newspaper on Tuesday. She notes that the location of the bus exchange has been a problem for years, and a promise in 2008 to move it remains unfulfilled.

Perhaps even more important is her point about the poor design of the municipal facilities in Newton. The wave pool and arena face each other and the entrances are not visible from nearby streets. They are also boxed in by the concrete walls of nearby businesses.

This is a situation that allows serious crime to go unnoticed, and it is amazing that it has gone on for so long, given that Surrey politicians have been trying to deal with a number of ongoing crime-prevention issues in the community.

As I read her letter, it caused me to reflect on what I observed the last few weeks while on a visit to the African country of Ghana. Serious crime is relatively rare there, but break and enters and thefts from vehicles are very common. People protect their homes by building walls around their properties, topped with barbed wire or broken glass. This prevents thieves from coming in, and is a practical response to the fact that police response time to such incidents is slow.

Another common practice is to have security guards on hand in almost any location where there is likely to be problems, particularly at night. We went out for dinner near the end of our visit, to a nice restaurant in a decent area, but were surprised to see three security guards on duty in the parking lot.

As it was not fenced off, they were there to ensure that patrons’ cars are not broken into while they are inside. It was a practical touch that worked.

There should be security guards stationed at all Surrey civic facilities, particularly after dark. This is an excellent way to have eyes and ears present where criminals may be tempted to strike. Security guards can quickly alert police, and in places like the Newton Arena and wave pool, there needs to be a team of them on duty, so that one lone guard is not attacked.

Police cannot be everywhere. They are needed to respond quickly to criminal incidents, and they need to have a presence in neighbourhoods as deterrents.

The City of Surrey needs to move quickly to assure all those who visit arenas, community centres, libraries and even the new city hall that they will be safe. The security guard option and a proposal to expand City Watch needs to be looked at – along with increased police presence, good lighting and proper building design that will reduce the likelihood of serious crime.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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