Simon Fraser University students Nathan Blanchard, Robyn-Mae Deang and Shirina Yan, with Fleetwood BIA executive director Jacquelline Hewitt in the background, get ready to survey businesses about their safety concerns. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Safer Surrey business, better Surrey business

Surrey’s biggest business safety survey is getting underway

If you operate a business in Surrey’s north end and have related concerns about safety or security, your time has come to have your say.

The city’s biggest, most comprehensive “Business Safety Survey” to date is part of Surrey’s Public Safety Strategy program and is getting underway now with the aim of helping law enforcement gain more insight into the concerns of merchants represented by the business improvement associations in Fleetwood, Whalley, Newton and Cloverdale.

“Those are the only zones where there are actual BIAs,” noted Colleen Kerr, Surrey’s manager public safety — stakeholder engagement.

“We want to figure out what their issues are. Often what happens when you get right down to it with businesses is you find out it’s employee theft, or something like that, that’s their most problematic issue, or identity theft, because their little ATM thing keeps getting stolen, or whatever.

“It’s about finding what the issue specifically is for each area, and each area we hypothesize will have different issues. Like it might be a little different in Cloverdale than it is in Fleetwood, or something like that.”

South Surrey businesses won’t be approached for input under this initiative but might be canvassed under another.

“We might be doing it in partnership with the RCMP to conduct a similar process but along 152nd, so it wouldn’t be say all businesses in South Surrey,” Kerr said.

So what questions will be asked? Here it gets complicated – the city doesn’t want to let the cat out of the bag.

Dr. Terry Waterhouse, Surrey’s director of public safety strategies, explained.

“The challenge for me is publicizing the actual questions too much is not really helpful for the survey process because if the respondent sees those questions and then is contemplating them or responding based on the story or other things, I’d just be concerned it’d hamper their responses,” Waterhouse said.

“The questions ask the participants their perception of business and why they have set up and what they see as the strength of doing business in their area,” he said, “but also specifically what challenges they’re facing from a safety and/or a crime perspective so it asks them to indicate their experience with various forms of nuisance crimes or property crime and asks them their perception of those and their perception of the severity of those issues.”

The strategy

The public safety strategy was set in motion last October with the intention of making people feel safer in Surrey, and improve quality of life and civic participation.

Its four key priorities are to prevent and reduce crime, ensure safe places, support vulnerable people and build community capacity. The latter involves increasing support for families and children and improving the community’s ability to respond to emergencies.

READ ALSO: Surrey unveils Public Safety Strategy

Kerr noted the Whalley, or Downtown Surrey BIA, did similar surveys in past years, “but we wanted to model it as a best practice for all of the BIA zones as part of our public safety strategy and we’ve actually modified it somewhat by bringing in experts through the University of the Fraser Valley to help shape the design of the survey, because you know how surveys need to be designed appropriately to answer all the right questions and that kind of thing.”

University professors Irwin Cohen, PhD, and Amanda McCormick, PhD, helped design it.

Who will be conducting the surveys?

“Ultimately each of the BIAs have applied for funding through I think it was a federal grant, Service Canada, to get students,” Kerr said.

“The students go door to door, to the businesses, they ask to see the manager and if the manager isn’t in then they’ll find the best time that works for the business. A 10-minute survey.”

After the results are compiled, likely in late summer, then Surrey’s bylaws and engineering departments, RCMP, the city’s public safety team and BIAs will “coordinate a comprehensive response” to the issues, Kerr said.

How many businesses will be canvassed, all told? “I’m going to say at least a thousand.”

Four Simon Fraser University students are working as interns at the Fleetwood BIA this summer and will be surveying business operators in that community. They are Business and Communications Major Megan McMahon, 22, English Major Robyn-Mae Deang, 21, Business Major Shirina Yan, 21, and Communications Major Nathan Blanchard, 21.

“I’m interning for the FBIA and doing my best to get experience in the field because I sorely need it,” Blanchard said. “We’re going to be asking questions about general run-ins with security problems and safety problems, also how we can optimize security in the area for Surrey Crime Prevention, Surrey RCMP, that kind of thing. We haven’t done any surveys yet, we’re just in the stage of practicing, so to speak.”

The REACTION

Jacqueline Hewitt, executive director Fleetwood BIA, thinks it will be a valuable exercise.

“We have approximately 330 businesses and we hope to hit as many as possible,” she said. “We have the students until the end of August. This is a great initiative.”

“At the end of this then we’ll get together with the other BIAs in Surrey as well to look at the results we get from this. Going forward from the results we get from this, then we will work with the RCMP and City of Surrey and look at how we can address any issues that may come up. We’re just starting out with this survey now.”

Anita Huberman, chief executive officer of the Surrey Board of Trade, is somewhat wary, though.

“I have to say the whole survey mechanism is really dependent upon the sample size, who you’re talking to, is the sample size spread out enough that you’re speaking to businesses that are facing security issues or not facing security issues,” she said.

“I think it’s always good to get a pulse on the ground, but, the results need to be fashioned in such a way where it creates positive results for the community instead of panic. And, you know, we’re in the business of supporting business, bringing business into the city.

“We know that crime is going down in our city, that public safety mechanisms and strategies are working through collaborative efforts, but I think you always have to be cautious when there is a survey done and what the parameters are around that.”

tom.zytaruk@ surreynowleader.com

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