Better services for people with mental health and addictions issues, regulated drug recovery homes, a community court and more accessible supportive housing are all part of a “Surrey Accord” being pitched by local NDP politicians.
Surrey NDP MLAs Sue Hammell, Harry Bains and Bruce Ralston were joined by B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix on Wednesday as they proposed the Surrey Accord at a news conference at the Newton Cultural Centre.
The plan comes two weeks after the brutal murder of hockey mom Julie Paskall, 53, who was beaten to death while she was waiting for her 16-year-old son outside the Newton Arena.
The slaying galvanized the Newton community and prompted calls for more police and remedies for the many social issues in the community.
Dix said Surrey RCMP are swamped with calls involving people with mental illness and substance abuse problems.
The causes of crime, Dix said, are multi-faceted and all levels of government must be involved to address and fund the solutions.
Bains (Surrey-Newton) said Surrey has one of the highest crime rates in the province, yet ranks 31st in the number of police officers per capita.
“In 2013, Surrey had 25 homicides, compared to six in Vancouver,” Bains said, adding 2012 statistics show Surrey has just 137 police officers per 100,000 residents.
“Cities such as Vancouver, New Westminster, West Vancouver, Delta, Port Moody and Langley all ranked better (in policing per capita).”
Bains said Surrey residents often complain police response times are incredibly slow – when there’s a response at all.
“(This) all points to one direction,” Bains said. “Police resources are overstretched and need help.”
The Surrey Accord, he said, would find resources and examine policing models, such as community policing that would see more beat cops on patrol.
The MLAs are also calling for the creation of a community court.
“Community courts are an efficient access to the justice system and a problem-solving approach to criminal behaviour,” Bains said.
He notes that Surrey was promised one of the courts – which mandates treatment programs for offenders – six years ago, yet it has yet to materialize.
Hammell (Surrey-Green Timbers) said the accord will also deal with issues of mental health.
She notes senior staff with Surrey RCMP have told her that the amount of time officers spend responding to calls involving people with mental illness is similar to that of Vancouver. In that city, 21 per cent of the calls involve someone who is mentally ill.
“Clearly, police resources are being spent on responding to the mentally ill, and we must ask, especially under the circumstances, if that is an appropriate use of the police force,” Hammell said.
It’s important to ensure community health resources are adequate to support the need, she said.
She also said the number of unregulated drug and alcohol recovery homes in Surrey is astounding.
“Fifty-five houses have been regulated and 45 more are on the dock to be regulated,” Hammell said. “But we know in Surrey there are at least 67 houses – the mayor and I think there are more.”
The homes need proper oversight for the benefit of those in need and for the protection of neighbourhoods, Hammell said.
Ralston (Surrey-Whalley) said as regulations fall into place, more provincial investment will be required for supportive housing.
The federal government opted out of its supportive housing responsibilities some time ago, he said, and noted it’s time for all levels of government to begin providing it.
He said people quite reasonably expect all levels of government to work together.
“And that’s what we’re proposing,” Ralston said, adding the MLAs pitching the accord are long-time Surrey residents with a stake in a solution.
“We care deeply about this city, we care deeply about its future, and we want to make it better and tackle these problems.”
Mayor Dianne Watts, who was not at the press conference, said the problems being outlined by the NDP MLAs are also part of her own Crime Reduction Strategy, created by the city in 2006.
She said she welcomes the help.
“Certainly there needs to be a comprehensive strategy from all levels of government in terms of how to deal with (crime),” Watts said.
The Surrey MLAs say they will be having a public meeting at an upcoming date to discuss the Surrey Accord and what other issues might be added to it.