With the city of Surrey plagued by more than two dozen shootings over the past two months, the federal government has approved a request for 100 more RCMP officers – though it remains unclear when the boots will be on the ground in B.C.'s fastest-growing city.
Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Minister of National Revenue and MP for the riding of Delta-Richmond East, made the announcement at a news conference Tuesday. She also announced a contribution of $3.5-million over five years for a new Surrey gang-reduction program.
The minister said the federal government is very concerned by the recent violence. Of the 30 shootings in the Surrey area since March 9, 15 have been linked to two groups involved in a turf war over the street-level drug trade.
Ms. Findlay, who made the announcement on behalf of federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said she hopes the officers will be on the ground "as soon as possible," though the exact timeline has not been determined.
"They will be here, we hope, sooner rather than later, but there is a process between governments that's being worked out right now," she told reporters, describing Surrey as a "high priority."
"We know that this is a very real community concern," she said of the violence.
Surrey's request for more officers was forwarded to Ottawa by the province. A federal government spokesperson, when asked how much the officers would cost, said the details were still being confirmed.
Barbara Steele, a Surrey councillor who represented the city at Tuesday's event, said the announcement was welcome.
"The fact that they've announced it and agreed to it means it's really going to happen. We felt that it would, but now things will start and things will be put in motion and we'll get the 100 new officers," she said.
She noted Surrey has the largest school district in the province and is growing at a rate of about 1,000 to 1,200 people a month.
"It's going to be enough to make a difference, for sure," Ms. Steele said of the announcement. "To meet all the needs? It's hard to say. We grow so rapidly."
The new gang-reduction program will target 400 at-risk youth between the ages of 11 and 19.
Rob Rai, manager of the Safe Schools department for Surrey, said the new program will work hand-in-hand with one that's already in place – the Wraparound Program.
"The Wrap Program is dealing specifically with kids who are already criminally involved, or gang involved. What we'd really like to do is catch some of these kids upstream," he said. "…Part of the programming we're going to roll out with the gang-reduction program is going to be upstream preventative programming for Grade 6 to Grade 9."
Mr. Rai said the new program is expected to lead to fewer referrals for the Wrap Program. He said there is currently a waitlist of about 45 people, and he expressed hope the list would soon be wiped out. Last month, the B.C. government announced a $270,000 one-time contribution for the Wrap Program.
Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said school anti-gang programs remind students how dangerous it is to get involved in crime. However, he said such programming is, at best, a stopgap measure.
Five people have been arrested in connection with the shootings, although two were released without charges. One person has been killed. Police have said he was known to be associated with those connected to the conflict.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner last month urged the groups to stop the violence before any more lives were lost. At the time of her statement, there had been 22 shootings since March 9. Vancouver, in comparison, had no confirmed calls of shots fired during that stretch.