Now-Leader file photo Police investigate a drive-by shooting in Surrey. There have been 31 shootings in Surrey so far this year.

Surrey election

ELECTION QUESTIONS: Is Surrey safer than it was four years ago?

Who has the best plan to fight crime in Surrey? That’s for voters to decide on Oct.20

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth part in a series leading up to Surrey’s Oct. 20 election. Click to read part one and part two and part three. Are there questions about the Surrey election you want answered? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at edit@surreynowleader.com.

Surrey residents are concerned about crime. It just comes with the territory.

So it’s no wonder that public safety is a major issue in this civic election campaign, with voters going to the polls on Oct. 20.

First, let’s look at the year so far. There have been 31 shootings in Surrey to date in 2018, with three more months to go. In 2017, there were 59 shootings in Surrey, in 2016 there were 61, and in 2015 there were 88.

The 10-year average for homicides in Surrey is 15 each year, with a record number of 25 in 2013. Last year there were 12 homicides. So far this year the city has seen nine homicides, with six of the victims dying by gunfire. Four people survived gunshot wounds.

“Crime is the number one issue in Surrey by far,” says Doug McCallum, mayoral candidate of the Safe Surrey Coalition. “People are just feeling unsafe in their communities. They literally don’t want to even get out in some places, out of their houses because they’re concerned with all the gang violence. In particular a lot of people have complained at least to me that they have a lot of drive-by shootings which often don’t even get reported and that’s really scary in communities where shots are fired. So people don’t feel safe all over Surrey, it’s in all communities. They don’t see the police and police don’t seem to be able to grab a hold of some of these issues.”

Doug McCallum, mayoral candidate of Safe Surrey Coalition

Does he think crime is a bigger issue in this election than it was during the 2014 civic election?

“Yeah I do, I think it’s grown worse and I think it’s a huge issue now.”

McCallum says he’s hearing from residents who intend to move their families out because they think Surrey is too dangerous.

“To me that’s really scary. It’s all because of this gun violence and gangs and drive-by shootings that are happening in all of our neighbourhoods, for that matter.”

Pardip Brar, 23, of Delta was shot dead in the 6700-block of 137A Street in Newton on March 9. On April 26 the body of Amin Vinepal, 24, of Delta was found on 12th Avenue in South Surrey after gunshots were heard in the area.

On June 4, Jaskarn Singh Jhutty, 16, and Jaskaran Singh Bhangal, 17, were shot dead on 40th Avenue near 192nd Street in South Surrey and on June 23, Paul Bennett, 47, was shot dead in his driveway in the 18200-block of 67A Avenue in Clayton. Police have not released the name of Surrey’s sixth shooting victim.

Shawn Patrick Cotter’s body was found on Jan. 7, in the 17800-block of 64th Avenue. He was not shot but police have not revealed how he died. Darlene Tordiffe was found dead in her home in the 17400-block of 28B Street in South Surrey on Jan. 25. Leonardo Ngo, 20, died in hospital after being stabbed on Aug. 6 at a townhouse complex near 152nd Street and 108th Avenue in Guildford. Lakhwinder Singh Bal, 48, was killed in a fight at the McDonald’s in Cedar Hills on Aug. 19.

The number of reported crimes involving violence in Surrey increased by four per cent in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year, according to Surrey RCMP crime statistics released this summer.

In the first half of 2018, 2,882 violent crimes were reported, and 2,775 in the first half of 2017. In 2017 there were 5,669 known violent crimes in Surrey compared to 6,189 in 2016. Of property crimes, 13,740 were reported in the first half of this year, down from 14,680 in 2017.

That includes business break-ins (down 14 per cent), residential break-ins (down 12 per cent), auto theft (down 18 per cent), theft from vehicles (down by nine per cent), theft over $5,000 (up by 24 per cent), and theft under $5,000 (down by 13 per cent). Shoplifting was up 13 per cent in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017, stolen property cases are down six per cent, fraud is up three per cent, arson is up three per cent and mischief, down 11 per cent.

For violent crime, reports of attempted murder was up 133 per cent to seven from three, robberies fell two per cent to 132 from 135, sex crimes dropped one per cent to 197 from 198, assaults rose by five per cent to 1,455 from 1,389, and abductions and kidnappings dropped by three percent to 33 cases from 34.

Heading into the election, some political candidates look to technology as integral to fighting crime.

“Our platform proposal is making use of technology. We need to move with the times,” says Rajesh Jayaprakash, mayoral candidate of the People First Surrey slate.

Rajesh Jayaprakash, People First mayoral candidate

People First Surrey says on its website that crime is “rampant” in Surrey and it would tackle the problem through “comprehensive electronic crime monitoring and response systems” that would be “controlled by citizen bodies,” not the police. The slate is calling for surveillance cameras to be installed at “all/most” road intersections and “other key points” that residents request, in an effort to deter crime. But nobody, including police, would be able to access the footage “except when there are specific and documented reasons.”

“In later phases,” according to the slate’s platform, “a camera and drone network will also be used to avoid congestions during accidents, ie: The road accidents will be detected by cameras, then drones will be send (sic) in to redirect traffic to feeder intersections and to pass on early visuals of accidents to police.”

Both McCallum and Councillor Bruce Hayne, the mayoral candidate for Integrity Now, advocate the use of “big data.”

“Police data analytics are now widely used across the world to predict crime before it happens, data is used to find criminals faster and before they commit the crime,” McCallum says.

Some large North American cities have been using predictive policing analytics “for years,” he says.

“It’s sort of a preventive thing.

“It’s a tool police can use to get out and ahead of some of the crime that’s happening in our city.”

Hayne says his slate will release its crime platform next week. Asked for a taste, Hayne says he’s calling “immediately” for a police board to be set up rather than a police committee and if elected, he says, his slate will give the RCMP more resources, details of which he declines to release until next Monday.

“I think trying to dumb it down to RCMP or no RCMP, or handguns or no handguns, as you know it’s much more complex than that. “I’m not advocating for drones, but I am a very strong proponent of smart city strategies and part of that is big data, open data and data analytics, using data and crime stats and real-time data in order to help police deploy the way they need to and as effectively as possible,” Hayne says. “So there are smart city strategies that can be used for crime reduction and certainly we’d be looking at that but flying drones around the city isn’t one of them.”

Bruce Hayne, mayoral candidate of Integrity Now

While crime is “certainly” one of the city’s major issues in this election, Hayne says, “I don’t think it’s as big in certain areas of the city obviously than others. I think the South Asian community is particularly concerned with it because so many of the gang activities historically have involved South Asian young men so I think they’re more concerned perhaps than some of the other parts of Surrey.”

Does Hayne thinks crime is a bigger election issue in Surrey this time around than it was in the 2014 civic election?

“I don’t think so,” he says. “I think what made it bigger last time was the recent, terrible tragedy with Judy Paskall (the “hockey mom” bludgeoned with a rock outside the Newton Arena) and two out of the three mayoral candidates were working very hard to make it the ballot question. I think this time around I expect it will be one of the three larger issues, transit being one of them and sustainable development being, in my opinion, the third.”

READ ALSO ELECTION QUESTIONS: Does Surrey need its own police force?

Stuart Parker, council candidate for Proudly Surrey, says “it’s hard to tell” if crime is Surrey’s biggest election issue.

“We thought last time it was going to be the biggest issue but transit ended up really shaping people’s votes. I think this time it’s going to be more of a balance, and I think it’s really a question of how big crime is in Surrey as a whole. I think particularly in Newton, in Whalley, there’s a consistent sense that crime is a real issue,” Parker notes. “Often when we think about crime we only think about organized crime, but there are lots of kinds of crime that undermine both people’s safety and their sense of safety.”

Much violent crime, Parker points out, fluctuates with the degree of conflict between gangs “but there are some kinds of crime Surrey scores poorly on pretty consistently.

Stuart Parker, council candidate with Proudly Surrey

“Surrey doesn’t have an above-average rate of reporting sexual assaults overall but we are above average when it comes to sexual assault by strangers and in public places, and that’s a consistent concern of ours and has shaped a fair bit of our crime platform. I think it’s a real mistake to conflate crime and gang activity. We want to make sure we’ve got a holistic crime platform that deals with all kind of crime that undermines people’s sense of safety.”

On relying on technology as a means to fight crime, Parker maintains, “The main thing with these CCTV cameras that I know matter a lot to Rajesh and company is you need the labour to look at the footage. People forget that. People forget the huge amounts of labour. And so for us, the centre of our platform is our committment to the ‘eyes on the street principle.

“Ultimately there’s no way a police force by itself keeps a city safe. What keeps a city safe is a community looking out for one another,” Parker says. “Unfortunately Surrey has some unique obstacles in terms of urban design. We’re going to have to change some of our infrastructure, both private and public to get the kind of safety that other communities that are planned with a little more foresight already have.”

Proudly Surrey wants to set up martial arts and self-defence classes in community centres, provide “better nighttime bus service,” set up a busing and equipment bank program “to eliminate barriers to kids playing sports,” and set up a Surrey youth hiring program.

Proudly Surrey would also end the RCMP’s contract in Surrey and “phase-in a South Fraser Police Department,” increase Surrey’s policing budget “to pay for a 30 per cent higher officer presence,” increase second-language training for police, and advance “beat cop” policing.

If elected, the Proudly Surrey slate says it would bring in new bylaws that would set maximum hedge and fence heights, sidewalks would be rerouted to improve safety and the slate would ensure all residential streets without sidewalks would get them. Parks staffing and park maintenance budgets would be increased. Also, the slate would waive permit and variance fees for the “expansion or addition of front porches, patios and decks” towards encouraging an “eyes on the street” approach to reducing crime.

“We really do need to re-evaluate these privacy hedges and these high fences that stretch through so much of our city because it means people, and particularly women, can be walking down major streets on the sidewalk and be totally invisible, or waiting for buses and being totally invisible,” Parker says. “It doesn’t just foster daring activity, it creates opportunities for sexual violence and sexual intimidation and we want to make sure, even if it’s costly and even if it’s inconvenient, we create a streetscape in which people feel safe on foot.”

Last Thursday, Surrey First’s mayoral candidate Tom Gill revealed the second part of his slate’s public safety platform, calling for the hiring of 125 more police officers, a referendum on whether the city should continue its contract with the RCMP, a new police board, a ban on handguns, “keeping gangs from kids” and “measurable results.”

Gill says he’s prepared to make handguns “the biggest issue in the election.”

“You can’t run for mayor, or council, and say you’re for public safety, and then turn around and say you’re fine with handguns in our city,” he says. “This issue requires leadership and determination.”

Tom Gill, mayoral candidate with Surrey First

Councillor Gill also says he wants policing to be directed locally, “reflecting our Surrey priorities. We need a Surrey police board created under the BC Police Act so that we can have more local control and accountability. That local authority is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. We are fast becoming the largest city in the province and we need that kind of community authority, oversight and direction.”

As for the 125 additional police officers, he said, if elected Surrey First would bring them in, at the cost of $160,000 per officer, over the next five years. Currently the Surrey RCMP detachment has 835 Mounties.

Gill said if elected he will want a full police services review within the first 90 days. He also said that if elected Surrey First will work with cities like Toronto and Montreal toward banning handguns.

“We want to do everything we can to keep guns off our streets and out of our city, and that means taking a hard stand against handguns. The last we want as Canadians is an American-style gun culture.”

For his part, Parker doesn’t put much stock in Gill seeking to make a ban on handguns a major election as that’s a matter for the federal government to resolve, not Surrey council.

“Well of course he’s prepared to make an issue over which he has no jurisdiction the biggest issue of the election,” Parker says.

“First of all you get to blame the federal government when your policy doesn’t go through. Secondly, you can get people to sign a petition, and we all know that in a low-turnout election marks, names of people who might support you, is the biggest asset. It’s more important than a sign location, it’s more important than a donation, it’s the name of somebody you can drive to the polls on election day.”

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