• Tackling Surrey Crime

    Op-ed originally published in The Vancouver Sun on July 6, 2018 and in The South Asian Post on July 3, 2018.

    Surrey has Canada’s third-worst crime problem after Grande Prairie and Red Deer, according to Statistics Canada. The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit says there are over 180 established criminal gangs in B.C. The RCMP’s 2015 annual report on organized crime ranked the Indo-Canadian groups third after bikers and Asian gangs for their strength and sophistication in B.C.’s hierarchy of criminal organizations.

    Why is Surrey now the epicentre of gang activity and gun violence? Is it due to inadequate policing and community outreach programs for at-risk youth? Is glorification of a gangster lifestyle in certain demographic groups a factor? Are the gaming, music and movie industries a contributing factor by creating a fascination amongst youth with the gang life? Are high housing costs and poverty possible causes? Or is it Surrey’s geographic location and size coupled with a young, growing and diverse population making the drug trade more bankable for gangs?

    Answers to such questions can aid in determining a new community based long term multi-pronged action plan to combat this complex and troubling issue.

    The presence of well-established and powerful gangs like Hells Angels, Red Scorpions and the United Nations Gang, along with new low-level dealers from different socio-economic backgrounds, has become a huge public safety challenge as rival gangs fight over turf. Surrey may simply be the current battleground. Retaliation-driven violence often kills targeted younger members and, sadly, innocent people.

    Surrey residents are fearful, angry, and frustrated. Thousands grieved together at the recent Wake Up, Surrey rally after the murder of two teenagers. They are calling on politicians and law-enforcement agencies to fix the problem, including demands for more police officers.

    Surrey has one officer per 675 residents. Vancouver has one per 505 people; there is one Delta cop per 593 people while Abbotsford has one officer per 655 people. Based on this simple comparison, Surrey could use another 250 police officers immediately and 18 to 20 more per year with the projected annual population growth.

    But police strength is only one part of a complex system of resources, deployment, strategies and tactics.

    Community rallies are cathartic and help to comfort and unite the residents but rallies and more officers will not address the underlying causes. We need to ask why the drug business so lucrative in B.C.

    Gurdwaras, churches, temples, mosques and other community organizations share the responsibility of keeping youth out of gangs. Police departments run excellent crime prevention, youth sports and outreach programs. But more innovative approaches to support families and youth are needed. Prevention and intervention will help keep youth out of gangs while the criminal justice system continues to disrupt gang networks.

    It is interesting to note that even with the current wave of murders in Surrey, the homicide rate for Metro Vancouver is at a 20-year low at 1.88 murders per 100,000 people. Violent-crime rates are also at historic lows. Of the over 250 unsolved murders in the region, more than two-thirds are gang and drug related which are inherently difficult to solve quickly. The overall youth crime rate and its severity have declined in the past decade, while violent crimes committed by young people have increased in severity.

    On balance, our police seem to be doing an effective job in keeping us safe. Can they do more? Yes. But so can we as a community!