It’s just before midnight on Dec. 20 and what sounds like distant machine gun fire is hitting the side of a Clayton house.
A glance outside the window reveals a couple of drunken teens pulling Christmas lights from the building.
But the homeowner’s call to 911 is met with laughter.
Delayed or no police response to minor crimes is a story heard often in Surrey, but in Delta, where they practice “no call is too small” policing, cops attend everything.
Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford says not only is it possible to implement the same strategy in Surrey, it’s crucial.
Cessford, who is retiring from Delta in February, is being eyed for a position as a senior crime-fighting boss in Surrey.
One of his tasks would be bringing the Delta model to Surrey.
Coun. Barinder Rasode, a Surrey mayoral candidate, has been working with Cessford for months on her crime-fighting plan.
Rasode wants to create a position of director of public safety within Surrey – a deputy city manager who would oversee police, fire, the legal department and bylaws.
Rasode wants Cessford in the running.
She said she repeatedly hears from Surrey residents that they want a model of policing like Delta, where every call is attended by police.
Can it be done in Surrey?
“Absolutely,” said Cessford, adding he would be interested in the job.
The no-call-too-small approach is a proven method, he said.
“That’s what they did in New York. They went right down to graffiti and fare evasion… they went right back to basic policing,” Cessford said in an exclusive interview with The Leader on Monday at Rasode’s Community Hub in Newton.
Cessford is not officially endorsing Rasode as a candidate. As a police chief, he said he can’t, and won’t, get into politics.
He said he’s driven by best-practices policing and making communities safer.
That said, he likes Rasode’s approach, partly because he had a lot to do with it.
Cessford’s plan includes the immediate hiring of 200 community safety personnel – trained like police officers but unarmed – at a cost of $8 million annually.
Under his watch, these officers would attend calls such as the Christmas lights theft, auto accidents and other low-risk incidents. They would free up armed officers to tackle the more dangerous work.
“I do see Surrey as an opportunity,” Cessford said, adding he has a daughter and a granddaughter living in Newton.
He saw TV coverage of a Sept. 28 rally in Newton which caused him great concern.
“(Residents are) getting mad,” he said, adding he wants community members to be vigilant, not vigilantes.
But that’s what sometimes happens when police aren’t answering calls, he said. Cops need to address the small calls before they turn into big ones.
As an example, Cessford said a few years ago, Delta Police received a call from a man who was angered about noisy frogs in his yard.
When police arrived, the man was in severe distress and was clearly unstable.
“There were several things that could have happened here,” Cessford said. “He could have committed suicide. He could have loaded up a shotgun or something and walked into a McDonalds and said, ‘Now I’m going to get the attention. You wouldn’t come… I know you’ll come now’. “
Community-based policing is key, Cessford said.
“It’s in-your-face policing,” he said. “You’re going to go to communities and find out what the problems are, and then you’re going to get in the face of those problems and solve them. And you’re going to eliminate them.”
Cessford said the RCMP has some amazing officers and he looks forward to working with them. In his view the force needs to build on what’s working and scrap what isn’t.
Other mayoral candidates are also planning aggressive attacks on Surrey’s crime problem.
Surrey First mayoral hopeful Linda Hepner is planning to hire 100 police officers in the next two years. The coalition is expected to release further details of its crime fighting plan soon.
Former mayor Doug McCallum said he will hire 95 officers by 2015, double the number of bylaw officers from 24 to 48 and invest $4 million in crime prevention groups.
Independent mayoral candidate John Edwards said the Surrey RCMP need to reduce the number of officers away on leave, pointing out Surrey can’t wait two years for more police.
Mayoral candidate Vikram Bajwa said he wants to create a municipal force like Vancouver’s or Delta’s.
Cessford met with Rasode months ago to discuss how things in Surrey could change from a policing perspective.
“We talked about the fact that we’d like Surrey to be one of the safest cities in Canada,” Cessford said. “We actually believe that we can make that happen.”
Cessford has already announced his plan to retire as police chief from Delta.
However, in his 46 years of policing, 20 of which will have been as Delta’s chief of police (the longest serving chief in the country), Cessford has never been able to turn down a challenge.
And he sees none greater than the crime problem in Surrey.
“The challenge to me here would be really quite interesting,” Cessford said. “I think closing that gap between the RCMP, city hall and the community would be critical.”
He said Surrey needs to start by cutting crime off at the root and reduce the number of calls police get.
“When I came to Delta in 1995, we were going to about 45,000 calls a year,” Cessford said. “When we implemented community-based policing and went into problem solving and looked at eliminating root causes of problems, we’re down to about 27,000 calls a year now.”
He said it’s not just a strategy for mid-sized communities like Delta. It works in larger cities too.
“We did the same thing in Edmonton and it’s about twice the size of Surrey,” Cessford said.
And the public plays an important role in identifying problems, he said.
In Edmonton, Cessford said, police said “we’re going to do it with the community, rather than to the community. We’re not going to tell the community what their problems are, they’re going to tell us.”
Cessford believes change will require an advocate, by way of the deputy public safety officer, who can help close the gap between police, the community and council.
And Rasode, who was the caller laughed at by emergency dispatch when her Christmas lights were being stolen, said it’s time Surrey residents got the level of policing they deserve.
She is announcing her crime-fighting plan this morning.