COLUMN: Crime problems outpace solutions

Seniors governments leave Surrey wanting, writes PAN columnist Frank Bucholtz

One year ago this week, Julie Paskall was murdered outside the Newton Arena.

It was the 25th murder of the year in Surrey, as 2013 was a terrible year for murders in  the city. The number of murders reached an all-time high.

Paskall’s death sparked a wave of outrage that has ebbed and flowed, but still managed to dominated he recent municipal election campaign and led to council recently agreeing to hire a significant number of new police officers.

While the politicians have heard loud and clear from the public about violent crime, many of the actions taken by various government agencies fly in the face of actually doing something about crime issues.

Surrey continues to lag in dealing with mental illness, drug recovery houses and homelessness. While these may be contributing factors to crime, they most definitely do contribute to a general sense of disorder and confusion, and they all take up significant amounts of police time.

Most of these issues are the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments, but there is little in the way of on-the-ground responses to them. Surrey continues to grow dramatically, but the services offered and funding made available is often more appropriate for a city half its size.

The man charged in Paskall’s murder is a prime example of why much more is necessary in the way of resources. Yosef Jomo Gopaul, 27, had just moved to Surrey eight weeks earlier from Brampton, Ont. He was well-known to police there, and his moving to Surrey meant there was another person with a challenging background for police to look out for.

He was considered a risk of reoffending after a violent assault in Ontario five years ago. However, Surrey RCMP were not notified because Gopaul had served his full term, and he was free to travel the country without having the public warned about his chances of reoffending.

In 2010, Gopaul was sentenced to two years and seven months in jail after an assault on a woman in Brampton. Parole Board documents showed he followed a woman home from a bar on Jan. 1, 2009, and attacked her.

There are many more people like him on the streets of Surrey. Some are out of jail; in some cases they have been labelled high risks to reoffend. However, for many different reasons, police do not always know about them. Even if they do, the general public has no knowledge of them until after they have reoffended.

Mayor Linda Hepner is being criticized for not responding quickly to some of the latest incidents, including two shocking murders in South Surrey.

One involved a child and the other a teen. However, there is little she can do except offer words of sympathy.

Policing is the city’s responsibility. It can be argued that Surrey has put enough resources into policing as the city has grown, but it is now trying to catch up, at least a little bit. However, police need to have all the tools to do the job.

They are hampered by the rights of criminals to privacy; by the cumbersome court system; by light (or no) sentencing; and by the very limited ability police have to deal with repeat offenders, who cause an inordinate amount of crime in the city.

The federal government has tried to toughen up sentencing, but in many cases, reforms passed by Parliament have fallen to Charter of Rights challenges in court. The court system seems determined to allow some very dangerous people to prowl the streets of Surrey and other cities.

What is the solution? More policing will help, as will more vigilance by neighbours about trouble spots.

However, it seems that the problems grow at a faster pace than solutions. If that is the case, Surrey may be in for many years of enormous challenges which have the potential to make some parts of the city very undesirable.

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

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