Hundreds of people showed up at a rally yesterday to express their outrage over the amount of crime in the Newton neighbourhood of Surrey.
It comes in the wake of this month's murder of 17-year-old Serena Vermeersch and last year's killing of hockey mom Julie Paskall.
SFU criminologist Curt Griffiths recently wrote a report noting that Surrey has the highest violent-crime rate and the lowest violent-crime clearance rate in the region. According to an article by Chris Poon in Surrey Now, Griffiths found that the city's crime-severity index ranks far higher than those of other Lower Mainland cities.
Residents want to know why crime has become such a serious problem in Newton.
There are many contributing factors, including the size of the Surrey RCMP detachment, a proliferation of poorly regulated recovery houses, the release of violent criminals likely to reoffend, an insufficient number of eyes on the street, and the lack of a supervised-injection site, which has been demonstrated to reduce street disorder in Vancouver.
Let's not forget growing inequality caused by B.C. Liberal and federal Conservative tax cuts, which make it more difficult to fund services, including public education, that prevent crime.
Burnaby has no shelters
I'll suggest another factor—crime-prevention policies pursued by other municipalities—which haven't generated much discussion in the media.
The region's third-largest city, Burnaby, has no homeless shelters, four libraries, and 11 SkyTrain stations. If someone is a homeless drug addict with a serious criminal record in Burnaby, it's no surprise that they would want to take rapid-transit out of the city.
That's because Burnaby is preventing crime by not providing shelters like so many other cities and relying on the SkyTrain to get troublemakers out of town.
You can ride the Millennium Line or the Expo Line from Burnaby southeast to New Westminster, where there are four shelters, according to B.C. Housing. There are also better panhandling opportunities in the Royal City because of housing densities downtown and in the Uptown area.
New Westminster is a progressive community with a council that gives considerable thought about how to assist the homeless.
Vancouver has plenty of services
From Burnaby, homeless people can also take the SkyTrain going northwest to Vancouver, where there's a plethora of free food available through soup kitchens and other public services. There are also 18 shelters and drop-in facilities in B.C.'s biggest city, as well as a massive urban park to disappear in. If you happen to be a drug addict, there's a supervised-injection site to welcome you.
In addition, the Downtown Eastside is full of single-room-occupancy hotel rooms, offering a homeless person the prospect of finding accommodation.
So the obvious choice for many drug addicts is Vancouver. But once homeless people arrive in the city, they're in for a shock.
That's because there is a massive number of cops. According to its last annual report, the Vancouver Police Department had 1,327 sworn members in 2013. The size of the force increased sharply in the period leading up to Vancouver hosting the 2010 Winter Games.
Omnipresent police equals heavy surveillance
Here's what it means for homeless people. If they encounter some Vancouver police officers, they can expect that they'll be asked for their name and date of birth.
Thanks to modern technology, the cop can punch this information into his or her cellphone, and immediately determine if the homeless person has a criminal record. That's because police can hook into the criminal-record database with their mobile device.
Once police determine that the person has a criminal record, he or she may be questioned about where they're living, what they're doing, and how they plan on spending their evening.
It's something that some homeless people get used to, particularly in the Downtown Eastside. And it may not be such a big deal if the person's record involves petty crimes. But let's say you've been a rapist or you've committed manslaughter or some other serious offence.
It's not going to be very pleasant encountering this type of interrogation on a fairly regular basis. So you might want to get out of town by hopping on the SkyTrain and heading to Surrey, where there are five shelters.
Surrey offers a respite for criminals
If you're a drug addict, you'll still be able to find a fix in Surrey because there's a ready supply of narcotics in the province's second-largest city.
And you won't have to worry as much about running afoul of the law because there isn't an omnipresent police force like the one that exists in Vancouver. That's because there are only 703 Surrey Mounties policing a city that has more than twice as many square kilometres as Vancouver.
The homeless drug addict or vagrant might get off the SkyTrain at the King George or Surrey Central stations, wander around, and yet still encounter security guards or even some police. That's because Surrey has intensified efforts to clean up this neighbourhood to create a vibrant downtown.
So a person with a serious criminal record might decide it's not worth the hassle and just hop on the bus and go down the King George Highway to Newton Exchange. Drugs are easily found in that area, judging from the number of needles littered about.
There are lots of places to disappear in Newton in the midst of all those retail outlets, fast-food restaurants, recreational facilities, and grassy areas. And housing is pretty cheap in the recovery homes, offering a crash pad in the cold season.
Should it come as any surprise that Newton has become ground zero for crime in Surrey and that its citizens are in an uproar?