COLUMN: Crime still a major concern

Statistics show improvement, but work still to be done in Surrey

The 2014 crime statistics posted by Surrey RCMP give a pretty good indication of why citizens had crime on their minds during the municipal election in November.

There are very few categories where crime numbers, as measured by police statistics, are down. Many of the crimes that affect ordinary people the most are up, some sharply.

Property crime is up 24 per cent, for example. Those are the crimes that are reported. As was stated many times during the campaign, many property crimes are not reported – police rarely respond in person, and in some cases, the amount of property stolen isn’t large. Nonetheless, it is a crime.

Thefts of motor vehicles were up by 54 per cent. After years of declines in car thefts, they have rocketed up again — despite the many programs designed to catch auto thieves, particularly the bait-car program. Clearly, there are some car thieves out there who have figured out how to beat the system.

Fraud was up by 58 per cent. Considering the many phone solicitation campaigns underway at almost any time (one that I know of seems to call people on a weekly basis), it isn’t surprising that some of those phone calls are made by fraudsters. And that is just one form of fraud. Fraud is an indication of some people being desperate for money,  and is also an indication of how some people prefer to perpetrate sophisticated crimes, rather than work. When good-paying jobs are not easy to come by, some people turn to such crimes.

While police are happy that the murder rate was down after 2013’s record 25 murders, 17 murders in Surrey in 2014 is nothing to brag about. It was still the fourth-highest rate in the city’s history.

Some of that is related to growth, and some to the city’s large population of young people, but it is still a disturbing statistic.

Considering the nature of some of the murders, notably that of Serena Vermeersch, there is much work to be done to really get the murder rate down, and quickly apprehend suspects after a murder takes place.

One quite disturbing statistic is that violent crime in Cloverdale and Port Kells is up by 10 per cent. These areas traditionally have been fairly quiet for police, but rampant growth around Cloverdale has undoubtedly led to more crime. The Clayton area has grown dramatically, but has minimal bus service, no recreation facilities and a lot of young people who are bored with nothing to do. That can lead to increased crime. There were two bank robberies in one mall in Clayton several weeks ago, and there have been many reported incidents of muggings, petty thefts and vandalism.

With all the concerns over crime that were expressed in the election, those who voted expressed confidence in the Surrey First candidates to deal with the issue. While there has been a lot of talk about transit and new taxes since the new council was inaugurated, there has not been many significant changes to the way the city deals with public-safety issues.

Surrey RCMP is going to get some additional members, but they won’t be on the street for some time yet, and as all observers note, dealing with crime requires more than just additional police resources.

One hint as to how challenging it is to deal with crime may have been given by Surrey’s two NDP MPs, who blamed the federal Conservative government for not dealing with it. After all, it is an election year.

The Conservatives, in fact, have tried to bring in stiffer sentences for repeat offenders, only to meet resistance from other parties, and have had several initiatives that were passed by Parliament overthrown in court.

If there is no way to corral the chronic offenders who do cause a lot of the problems, what are we as a society to do? Should we just let them commit crimes, and consider that one of the costs of living in a society where rights seem to outweigh responsibilities?

Most Surrey citizens are law-abiding people who don’t want to have to deal with crime on a regular basis. They need help from police, the courts and government at all levels, but it isn’t always available to them.

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