In the last month, Surrey has seen eight shootings, four of them fatal.
Police say it’s been an unfortunate spike in gun violence, but they also note that’s how violent crime presents itself – in peaks and valleys.
Overall, police and politicians point out, the number of homicides in 2011 was down. There were 12 killings in the city last year and the overall annual average for the past 10 years has been 13.
Last week, Mayor Dianne Watts called on the federal government for stiffer sentences for people involved in gun crimes and a better guard against the number of guns flowing across the U.S. border.
“The City of Surrey is concerned about the number of gun crimes being committed in communities across the country,” Watts said in letters to federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General Rob Nicholson and Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews.
“I am requesting the federal government toughen sentences for gun crimes and increase mandatory sentences for the illegal possession of a firearm.”
The call for tougher penalties came after a 22-year-old man was shot while walking along a path in the 9300 block of 138 Street on Monday night (Jan. 23).
The man was found face down in a public walkway about a block from Surrey Memorial Hospital. He had sustained multiple gunshot wounds.
The victim spent Tuesday in surgery and is in stable condition, but police say he will have permanent mobility problems.
Police say although they do not believe the attack is connected with gangs, the victim is known to police for drug and minor assault incidents, and the victim and attacker are acquaintances.
Police are looking for a Caucasian male about 6’ wearing a ball cap.
Simon Fraser University criminologist and policing expert Rob Gordon said Watts’ call for a crackdown on firearms is a familiar political refrain – popular with voters, but ineffective public policy.
“That’s all nice and it would be good if it worked, but it won’t,” Gordon said.
“What you’ve got to do is get at the underlying issue – the drug trade – or tolerate the shootings,” Gordon said. “It’s one or the other.”
Upon closer investigation, Gordon believes police will find a large portion of the shootings in the last month have had some drug involvement – either directly or indirectly.
Often shootings, even when not linked to selling drugs, are drug-fuelled or motivated by the need for drugs, he said.
The fact that people are shooting one other, rather than stabbing or beating each other (although there was one beating fatality and one severe aggravated assault during the last month) has to do with the availability of firearms, Gordon noted.
Part of the traditional drug swap in between U.S. and Canada sees “B.C. Bud” heading south, and guns and cocaine coming north.
“Carrying a (firearm) can be a status symbol among some individuals, or groups of individuals,” Gordon said.
He said brave policy changes need to be implemented in order to get guns out of people’s hands. And for Gordon, that means ending the already lost war on drugs.
“It’s widely recognized now that prohibition of any kind of widely sought after and widely used prohibited substance is just simply a cause of crime,” Gordon said.
He believes adults should be allowed access to marijuana, while the substance is taxed and regulated, similar to alcohol and tobacco.
It’s estimated that in B.C., the export of marijuana is a $6-billion-a-year industry.
Watts noted that her call for harsher sentences is one piece of a much larger plan.
In 2007, Watts unveiled a comprehensive Crime Reduction Strategy (CRS), which includes ways to address crime in Surey, including prevention, apprehension, rehabilitation and addressing perception/fear of criminal acts.
The CRS calls for closed circuit TV cameras, community courts, and a sobering centre. Senior governments have been slow to financially support the latter two.
“I would have to say this, the wheels of government are extraordinarily slow, which for me, I find frustrating,” Watts said.
Both Watts and Gordon agree that until something is done about illicit drugs, the gunplay will persist.
Watts said legalization of drugs is an age-old argument that won’t solve the problem. If pot was legalized, gangsters would quickly move into other markets, like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.
Watts said prevention and education will be key in tackling both guns and drugs, and that must involve government, schools and parents.
A month of gunfire
• Dec. 24 – Bradley McPherson, 28, is shot and killed at a Christmas Eve party in the 13100 block of 67A Avenue.
• Dec. 25 – 27-year-old Alok Gupta is shot and killed while covering a shift at Ken’s Grocery at 11779 96 Ave.
• Dec. 26 – a 54-year-old woman is shot in the chest in an apartment in the 13300 block of King George Boulevard in Whalley. It is non-fatal.
• Dec. 27 – Surrey’s Apollo-Lyn Simpson, 28, is found dead on his front lawn in the 9500 block of 125 Street.
• Jan. 3 – A man in Panorama Ridge is shot and seriously injured in what is believed to be a dispute over theft of alcohol.
• Jan. 4 – A man was shot in the leg and dumped in South Surrey.
• Jan. 19 – Two men are shot in the 13900 block of 56 Avenue in Panorama Ridge. The shooting is deemed by police as gang related.
• Jan. 23 – A 22-year-old is shot multiple times on a walking path near 93 Avenue and 138 Street. He is taken to hospital and survives.