The data shows that crime rates are not deterring new commercial, retail, and residential construction in Surrey.
NICK PROCAYLO / PNG
The fast-track effort to create a Surrey police department shows that someone forgot to study the workbook on how to successfully lead change. This is a dark omen considering the high failure rate of most organizational change efforts and the high financial and reputational costs incurred.Let’s tick some of the boxes of what eminent change management practitioners — including John Kotter at Harvard, Peter Senge at MIT, and William Bridges — counsel:Successful change starts with a “sense of urgency” and purpose, attached to a clear vision. Add a “guiding coalition” of competent leaders, continually share and listen through open and honest communication, and build upon the best of what you have rather than flush away all that’s happened before.Instead what is occurring in Surrey is what Kotter calls a “false sense of urgency.” A false sense of urgency presents bright lights, loud noise, and panic when no real problems exist.What exactly is the urgency and purpose requiring the creation of a custom-made Surrey city police department? The facts show there isn’t one.Whether it’s the RCMP or a Surrey city police department, the basic socio-economic factors impacting Surrey will not change, the associated crime factors will not disappear, and gangs now engaged in a Game of Thrones-like borderless battle are not leaving town.Consider the following: A statistical analysis shows that a strong correlation exists between population growth rates in Surrey and the increase of some crimes, mostly non-violent and property crimes. For example, I compared public data showing population growth in Surrey between 2012 with public data showing the trend in 30 separate crime-rate categories in that period.The results show an upward trend in population growth shadowed very closely with just two crime types in particular: fraud and stolen robbery. However the data from those years shows a much weaker comparative trend, as well as no valid correlation between violent crime and population growth.So why do some feel that a Surrey Police Department is needed to deal with all the fearful crime that the RCMP apparently is slow on? The simple reason is that it’s a mind trick. Our protective human brain recalls dramatic and scary events far longer and deeper than boring things, and immediately triggers a protective response. Violent crimes, despite their very disproportionate rate, are certainly more emotionally evocative news and social media magnets than the majority of boring crimes, like a break-in.So it’s easy for politicians to play the emotional card of “fear of crime” based on headlines more than hard facts. But the fact is a blue stripe on a uniform replacing the RCMP yellow stripe won’t change our basic neurology and physiology. Scary crime is scary crime, no matter how small or what police are in service.In general, population and demographic statistics show that as populations grow so does overall crime. Statistics Canada census data show that just over 800 people a month moved into Surrey between 2011 and 2016. This population growth is expected to continue. But it is not just the actual incidence of crime that can parallel population growth, it is also expectations of policing.Crime statistics show that older residents are generally more fearful of crime (especially women) and have higher expectations of visible and rapid police service, while the group most likely to commit a crime is between the ages of 15 and 24.The growth rate in the 15 to 24 age group in Surrey was 17 per cent between 2001 and 2016 while the senior’s group grew 29 per cent. Do certain politicians really believe that a Surrey police department can influence natural demographic changes?Surrey is also facing a dramatic growth of people living in highrise towers as well as “single-detached houses” such as townhomes, while the number living in traditional single-family homes is going down. Squeezing more people together in high-density towers and micro-communities can be a catalyst for crime.The question is whether a more costly Surrey city police department will magically unveil a unique policing strategy different from the comprehensive and community-based one already achieving success in neighbourhoods. If there is any “urgency” in Surrey it is affordable housing and density planning, something not the responsibility of any police service.In 2016, Surrey provided $1.1 billion worth of residential building permits related to 4,668 units of housing. The data shows that crime rates are not deterring new commercial, retail, and residential construction in Surrey. The city is still booming. However, such development can draw a greater criminal element (particular non-violent crimes) to an area because of the large populations of potential crime targets.For example, publicly available police data shows that in 2016 the highest number of calls for police service to the high-growth Whalley-City Centre district were for theft, checking on the well-being of individuals, disturbance complaints, and unwanted persons complaints.What this suggests is the importance of aligning the pace of development with community safety. This is, in fact, being done through existing police patrol and intervention strategies plus the collaborative programs between the RCMP and community groups. So the question arises “if it ain’t broke, just what are we fixing?”All this suggests the approach to bringing about change to Surrey’s policing model is a classic case of “false urgency.” The concept lacks an evidence-based clear purpose; the important component of a “guiding coalition” is missing many of the elements of inclusiveness and collaboration; communications are at best fractured; and the vision of what will be appears very blurred.• Eli Sopow, PhD, is former Director of Research & Analysis with B.C. RCMP headquarters and is currently a professor of Change Management at University Canada West in Vancouver.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at email@example.com.CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.