SURREY, B.C. — The city’s relentless shooting spree continued this week, prompting leaders to speak out to a fearful community.
So far in 2016 there have been 31 shooting incidents on city streets. There have been three arrests related to the incidents.
On Tuesday morning, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner told CKNW the city has made “considerable progress” and that this year’s violence is different than last year’s, in which the city saw 52 shootings.
A handful of the incidents are believed to be connected to a new drug war different from last year’s dial-a-dope turf war. Police haven’t put a name to the two groups but characterized them as “low-level” players.
Hepner noted that since last year’s gunplay, the city has ordered 100 new Mounties, hired director of public safety strategies Dr. Terry Waterhouse and last year made 825 arrests.
But that created a void.
“All those individuals (from last year) were taken off the street and we created a vacuum,” said Hepner. “And that’s what we’re seeing now.”
The question has now become, “How will Surrey put an end to that cycle?”
Hepner said she spent her day Monday talking with the police chief, as well as her provincial and federal counterparts.
The “onerous” charge approval process needs to be simplified, according to Hepner.
“In my discussion with the minister of public safety (Tuesday), he spoke about taking a look at that — how we can lessen that … That is a big move and will certainly help the RCMP.”
Meanwhile, Surrey has “escalated” its youth-targeted programming, said Hepner, noting the gang-intervention “Wrap” program got new provincial dollars last year and that some of the new Surrey Mounties have allowed for a heavier school presence from RCMP.
“These programs are part of it but we also need community involvement,” she added.
Hepner said she’s confident police are making headway in the investigations, but remains concerned that an innocent person is going to get caught in the crossfire. Several of the shootings have happened in broad daylight.
‘WALL OF SILENCE’
The mayor had strong words for the families of the people involved in the shootings.
“If the well-being of the community isn’t enough to motivate you to action — which by the way it should be — but if it is not enough, then just think about your loved ones themselves because there is no fairy-tale ending to this story. This kind of lifestyle will only end in jail or a toe tag. A coffin. There are no other options. There is no pretty ending.”
Surrey’s top cop Bill Fordy, in an interview on PulseFM, said while the “wall of silence” from families of the suspects has broken down since last year, it still exists.
“There must be some issue related to pride or embarrassment that is culturally linked,” he noted, seeing as the vast majority of the suspects are young men from the South Asian communities.
The top cop wants to see “long-term, sustainable success” and said that will take prevention and intervention efforts.
“We really need to change the trajectory of these young men,” he remarked.
Fordy said RCMP are in discussion with the school district about its curriculum and how police can become more engaged with students.
The detachment is looking at introducing cops to elementary schools, he said, all in an effort to help young people be more comfortable with police and view officers as their “ally” instead of their “enemy.”
GROWTH A CHALLENGE
On CKNW, Surrey RCMP Supt. Shawn Gill said the city’s “exponential growth” is a “significant challenge.”
“We’ve probably got the largest youth population in the Lower Mainland. So that’s a challenge,” he noted.
Gill said prevention and education needs to start at home.
“I’m a father. I have a pretty good sense of when my kids are getting out of line when they’re 16 or 17. So long before the gunplay plays out on the streets, I think the conversation we’re having here today… we need that every day. That’s where we need the community engagement.”
Asked how long it takes to see a change in the cycle of violence, Gill replied “it varies” and urged the public to have patience.
“We asked for patience (during the Julie Paskall and Maple Batalia investigations) because there’s always public concerns with respect to how come the police aren’t moving fast enough,” acknowledged Gill. “In those times, when we were provided the patience, we delivered (convictions) … But it takes time.”
— With files from Tom Zytaruk