COLUMN: No summer holiday for Surrey policing debate

The debate within the City of Surrey over policing shows no sign of abating, even though it is the middle of the summer and council has taken a break for a month.

Residents continue to express their opinions (both pro and con) about a Surrey Police force, and members of council are also split on the issue.

Independent Coun. Jack Hundial sent out a press release on Aug. 6, expressing his doubts about the number of officers who will be ready to assume policing duties from Surrey RCMP when and if a transition takes place. Hundial is a retired Surrey RCMP officer.

Currently, Surrey detachment has a complement of 843 trained officers, and he noted this is “despite council not approving six new positions in the 2018 budget and 12 new positions in the 2019 budget.”

He believes Surrey still needs 30 new officers to keep pace with the population growth of 800 new residents each month.

“This chronic understaffing… makes Surrey already less safe than it should be.”

Hundial pointed out that the Surrey Policing Transition Report states that it is acceptable to have only 80 per cent of their authorized strength on Day 1 of the Surrey Police Department (SPD), with the hopes that more officers will eventually join them. The report calls for Surrey Police to begin operations with 805 officers.

“Even if SPD was able to hire all 461 brand new patrol officers to start the SPD, they are prepared to go with only 379 on patrol, at a higher cost to taxpayers.”

He is also concerned about the level of supervision, particularly if a large number of the SPD officers are new to policing.

“According to the Mayor’s Police Transition Report, the SPD will also have significantly fewer supervisory personnel. With up to 461 new officers on patrol, it’s predictable that the new police department will have more problems and challenges than a typical police department. This report fails to acknowledge or mitigate this risk,” the press release states.

Paradoxically, public safety is apparently improving in Surrey, according to Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index. Surrey’s CSI dropped to 89.5 in 2018 from 98.2 in 2017. The CSI (which uses the same initials as the popular TV police series which ran for 15 years, likely ensuring more people pay more attention) takes into account the seriousness of crime, in addition to the actual number of reported crimes.

As Surrey RCMP Cpl. Elenore Sturko said, “statistically, you’re more safe than you were four years ago.” However, she also noted that people feel less safe when high-profile crimes take place, such as the assassination of Hells Angels club member Suminder Grewal at a busy Starbucks drive-thru in South Surrey on Aug. 2.

A great deal of the discussion about policing in Surrey revolves around how people feel about crime and public safety in general, in addition to the lack of arrests in a number of high-profile murders. People are also very concerned about drive-by shootings, and high-profile gang activity.

In the first half of 2019, crime rates in Surrey continued to go down. The crime rate in the second quarter (April-June) was down two per cent from the previous three months. Violent crimes were up one per cent, while property crimes fell three per cent. It is important to note that these are reported crimes.

There is still plenty of crime in Surrey – not surprising, given its size and population. In the second quarter, there were three murders, 61 robberies, 1,059 assaults and 14 kidnappings. That last one is a real puzzler – how many kidnappings has the public heard about this year?

There were also 257 residential break-ins, 251 business break-ins and 384 car thefts.

Surrey RCMP or Surrey Police? No matter what we end up with, crime will continue to be a major concern for many Surrey residents.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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