Surrey has always had a bad reputation.
The city’s controversy is no longer about its crime rate, but about its policing situation. After five years of dominating Surrey politics and a new mayor and council, the province has given Surrey an answer on what the future of policing will look like. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced Surrey would continue its transition to the Surrey Police Service (SPS).
But during the controversy, in the past year alone, city council has voted twice to stick with the RCMP, the mayor has butted heads with Farnworth, accusing him of “bullying” and saying that he has “acted misogynistically” towards her, and the Surrey Police Union published a website claiming recent violent crime in Surrey is, in part, the RCMP’s fault.
All of this and the end of the saga still may not be in sight with the mayor refusing to comment on if she’ll accept the province’s decision without a court battle.
Amid all the controversy around politics and policing, what goes into preventing crime in a city like Surrey gets lost in the mix.
“I think the police are doing a phenomenal job and I really think both the RCMP and Surrey Police Service have done the utmost to work together and work closely. When I look at the crime stats we’re not in a bad place,” says Surrey coun. Linda Annis.
Annis was first elected in 2018. She also serves as executive director for Crime Stoppers, an organization that takes anonymous tips.
Violent crime in Surrey is down 14 per cent from last year, property crime is down 13 per cent, and drug related crimes are down eight per cent, according to the RCMP’s first quarter of crime reports in 2023.
Simon Fraser University criminology professor Bryan Kinney focuses on crime prevention and says the biggest problem with the police transition is the delay.
“In the context of Surrey, whether it’s a city police service or a municipal detachment under the RCMP, any community is going to have roughly the same response,” Kinney says.
Kinney’s biggest concern is unrelated to crime statistics.
His worry is that a lack of morale among RCMP and Surrey Police Service officers would cause people to leave both organizations to find more stable work. He also says municipalities like Surrey should work with and fund community groups that work towards crime prevention.
“Local government really should be thinking about packaging pots of money and resources for local expressions and attempts to try and better the community,” he says.
“Local communities will have ideas and local governments would be the shepherds for how those get organized. They would be the bridge between the grassroots stuff into the more formalized.”
Annis says the Surrey Crime Prevention Society works towards crime prevention in the city.
“They go out and they patrol the neighborhoods and it’s great for youth to get involved with because they volunteer their time and they go around and report back any suspicious activities,” she says.
The society was created in 1981 and became a non-profit three years later. This volunteer organization works with youth and the community to prevent crime by looking for speeding vehicles and reporting graffiti.
The organization is funded by government grants, individual donations, and business sponsorships. In 2022 the City of Surrey approved a grant for $300,000 for the group.
“I think if you can get youth engaged in healthy activities and in group activities, they’re less likely to join gangs and gangs are a huge concern for me,” Annis says.
Kinney says community centre programs fall into the social development model of crime prevention, which views crime as something that can be stopped before it happens by positive intervention.
“The idea is if you do something to prevent something from happening that would be the best model. So, at the primary level you can make sure people have some nutrition, they have programs to learn about civic duty and public order or behaviour,” he says.
“If kids are fed and watered and are in an environment that doesn’t cause them trauma or pain we’re well served in doing that.”
Surrey’s recreation centres are running summer programs for kids with focuses like arts and sports as options for youth from three to 18 years old.
“Oftentimes, kids have no place to go after school, and having libraries or organized activities at rec centers is a great healthy way for kids to stay involved and stay involved healthily,” Annis says.
“[There’s also cultural] activities. Oftentimes we don’t think about culture, but lots of kids want to do music or do art, not just sports. We’ve got to be able to provide all of that for kids.”
The saga is far from over in Surrey. Kinney says every Canadian police force is similar in how they respond to crime and police don’t play a huge role in prevention.
“I believe that Canadian policing is pretty good. It certainly could use some help sometimes. But I think we’re in a good spot.”