An uptick in crime in Surrey reported Thursday by RCMP has provoked two opposing political responses from the city’s mayor and one councillor.
Total criminal code offences rose 6% between the second and third quarters of 2019. Property crimes spiked 10%, whereas violent crimes rose 5%.
Mayor Doug McCallum issued a statement Thursday calling for the expedited establishment of a municipal police force by the province’s solicitor general.
A “disheartened” McCallum said, “RCMP members are doing the best job they can, but it is clear from what I have heard from our citizens that Surrey would benefit from having its own police department. I continue to urge the solicitor general to make this a top priority and that we work as quickly as possible to establish the Surrey Police Department.”
Earlier in the day, Coun. Linda Annis, who ran in opposition to McCallum’s coalition in last year’s election, issued her own statement calling on the city to fully fund its hiring commitments dating back as far as 2016.
“Our policing numbers aren’t keeping up, and it’s only a matter of time before the shortages take their toll on public safety,” said Annis, who blamed McCallum and his coalition for a hiring freeze.
McCallum did not respond to an interview request from Glacier Media.
Annis said police officer numbers are not keeping up with population growth. She said the city likely needs an additional 300 new officers to keep pace with Vancouver.
“We need boots on the ground now, regardless of the colour of the badge, and jeopardizing public safety while we wait for a civic police force is no way to provide proper policing and resources that are needed right away,” said Annis.
McCallum has pledged to have a municipal force in place by April 2021 but is now accusing Solicitor General Mike Farnworth of delaying the process after Farnworth’s office established a joint transition committee led by former Attorney General Wally Oppal.
However, a transition report from the city has been criticized for not adding more officers to the city.
Surrey is on pace to see 17 homicides in 2019, which would be a five-year high. However, although Surrey has seen a recent spate of much-publicized shootings and homicides, its overall crime rate has been on the decline for the past 10 years, as it has been nationwide.
It may be difficult to determine what impact the current hiring freeze and shortage in officers may have on crime rates since crime reporting techniques changed Jan. 1.
Because of new standards for reporting so-called “unfounded” crimes to the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, the RCMP expects to report more criminal incidents.
Starting January 1, 2019, a “victim-centred approach to recording crimes” has been taken by Canadian police departments. Statistics Canada states, “Unless there is concrete evidence to prove the crime did not happen, it is to be believed that the crime occurred,” so “the number of founded incidents for certain types of crimes, including sexual assaults, will likely increase and clearance (or solve) rates will likely decrease.”
Indeed, Surrey saw a 46% spike in violent crimes reported when comparing the first quarter of 2019 to the same period last year, although overall crime between these periods rose just 4%, with property crimes actually decreasing 9 %.
This year, property crime in Surrey is on pace to be about 7% below the 10-year average, discounting the change in reporting standards.
Surrey RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Elenore Sturko said the reporting changes did affect the ability to look backwards but will have positive impacts in the long term.
“There will be more confidence in looking at (reports) like sexual assaults,” said Sturko.
“It made it extremely difficult or near impossible to compare this year’s stats to any previous year. The change in coding looks like a dramatic rise but it is not. It’s just a change in the way they’re reported in the system.”
With that said, Sturko said there is value in reporting quarterly crime trends as it can indicate whether there are crime sprees happening or if the general population is not practising adequate crime-prevention techniques, such as not leaving valuables in cars.
“Quarter-to-quarter, they are short snap shots. But the reason we look at short snaps is we can see some trends.”