How do you counteract a fentanyl overdose? What’s the best way to support mental-health initiatives in your community? How are RCMP connecting at-risk people with essential services?
Surrey Block Watch captains, co-captains and residents wanted to know, and last weekend, at the third annual Block Watch Symposium at the Mirage Banquet Hall in Cloverdale, Surrey RCMP answered.
The event brought together Surrey Block Watch participants with members of the Surrey RCMP, as well as police representatives from neighbouring communities, to connect with each other and learn about public safety concerns.
“This is the 30th anniversary of Block Watch in Surrey, which speaks to the amazing level of engagement in the community,” said Insp. Andy LeClair, community support and safety officer for Surrey RCMP.
“At the end of the day, these are the people in the community that really care. They provide the information that we need in order to disrupt crime.”
Since 1986, the goal of the Block Watch program has been to encourage residents to take responsibility for community safety, proactively contribute to crime prevention and reduce opportunities for crime.
The program, administered by local police, is about “neighbours helping neighbours.” Community members commit to watch out for their neighbour’s homes, keep each other informed about local crime, and report suspicious activities to the police.
Thirty years after the program’s introduction to the province, there are 800 Block Watch neighbourhoods in Surrey.
“It’s important that we share information to protect our neighbourhoods,” said Chief Supt. Dwayne McDonald, addressing the 185 guests in attendance Saturday. “Nothing can replace good people on the ground.”
On everyone’s mind: how to make Surrey a safer place for all community members.
The city’s director of public safety, Dr. Terry Waterhouse, said Surrey’s new public safety strategy features Block Watch prominently.
“Our goal is to have a community where everyone is safe and engaged,” he said. “What do we want public safety to be? Comprehensive, collaborative and, most importantly, measurable.”
The public-safety strategy is expected to launch several programs that will be “the first of their kind in Canada,” including the End Gang Life program – designed to help youth exit gang life safely – which had nine young people referred to it in its first day of operation.
The strategy includes programs that support vulnerable people in Surrey, such as the Surrey Mobilization and Resiliency Table (SMART), a co-operative team of RCMP, city staff and specialist resources that meets once a week to pool resources to assist individuals who are especially at risk.
“We realized we couldn’t arrest our way out of every situation,” LeClair said. “Our goal is to reduce risk by quickly connecting people who are most at risk of harm with local services.”
Since the program’s start in November of last year, the SMART initiative has discussed 111 cases.
LeClair said it’s the level of co-operation and information-sharing that led to the SMART initiative’s successes.
“We can’t save the world,” he said, “but if we can get people the help they need one person at a time, it’s worth it.”
Attendees also saw presentations by Cpl. Taylor Quee, who manages the Police Mental Health Intervention Unit for Surrey RCMP, and Insp. Shawna Baher, proactive enforcement officer, who gave a “hands-on” demonstration of the dangers of fentanyl.
Those attending the event not only learn about issues to pass on to their communities, they learned a few personal lessons as well. RCMP checked the parking lot outside of the event while it was in progress to determine if attendees were practising proper auto-crime awareness. Out of 181 vehicles checked, 106 were deemed “under-secured,” and included cars with purses in the backseat and one car with keys left visible inside.
Although Block Watch members learned about public and personal safety — the symposium’s theme was “strengthening communities” — the underlying theme was the importance of communication and co-operation, and how those skills are essential to the program’s success stories.
Peter Tilbury, a longtime South Surrey Block Watch captain, told the crowd that he is concerned with a lack of two-way communication.
“There needs to be information coming back to us,” he said to The Reporter. “If people don’t hear back, they lose their faith in the system and that’s killing Block Watch.”
In late October, Peace Arch News reported the concerns of Tilbury and several of his fellow Block Watch captains.
On Saturday, Tilbury called for a day of networking and an open forum for questions, rather than the symposium’s presentations.
Mary-Jo Ohl, a Delta teacher and Cloverdale Block Watch captain, disagreed.
“What I got from today’s presentation is that Surrey has been headhunting and has put together a new team to deal with crime, mental-health concerns, and other issues in our community,” she said. “We’re (learning about) things that we can do on the ground.”
Others used the opportunity to seek support that they don’t always receive in their own neighbourhood.
“I don’t have as many people involved as I’d like,” said Doreen McCulloch, a Cloverdale Block Watch captain, adding that with local expansion and other changes in the neighbourhood, it can be difficult to find people to volunteer their time.
McCulloch said she would love to have a co-captain, but in the meantime it is important to stay aware of local crime trends on behalf of her community.
To join or start a Block Watch in your neighbourhood, reach out to a community programs co-ordinator at your local Surrey RCMP district office. Residents can sign up at surrey.rcmp.ca for Surrey RCMP news releases, event information, crime statistics and messages from the officer in charge.