Business in Vancouver

Canadian city's crime is down but safety fears are up

Assaults, robberies lower in 2016 compared with 2015, but business owners feel less safe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 1:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 2:25pm

Business owners and staff in downtown Surrey, British Columbia are feeling less safe than ever despite a drop in physical assaults and robberies in 2016’s first half.

The Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association’s (DSBIA) August security audit found that only 71 per cent of business owners and employees felt as safe in their area as they did a year ago.

Perceptions of safety in downtown Surrey have been falling steadily since 2013, when 93 per cent of business owners and workers felt as safe as they had the year before.

The 71 per cent score from 205 respondents is also the lowest percentage since the DSBIA started conducting annual audits in 2006.

Perception might be out of whack with reality, however.

Physical assaults and robberies in the region of Surrey that includes the downtown area have been falling.

There were 546 physical assaults in Whalley/City Centre region of Surrey in the first half of 2016, according to the Surrey RCMP.

That’s down more than 9 per cent compared with the 602 assaults recorded in 2015’s first half.

Robberies are getting even scarcer.

There were a mere 88 robberies in that region of Surrey in the first half of 2016, according to Surrey RCMP numbers. That’s down 25.4 per cent compared with the same time period in 2015.

When all property crimes in the area in the first half of 2016 are combined, there were 4,189 incidents, which is down more than 6 per cent compared with the same period in 2015.

Despite the statistics showing lower crime rates, DSBIA CEO Elizabeth Model said that “from a visual standpoint, there are more street people and homeless people and people with substance abuse issues on the streets than there has ever been.”

The Whalley/City Centre area for which police track statistics includes downtown Surrey but also extends further than the DSBIA’s boundaries, which are between 94A Avenue, 112th Avenue, Whalley Boulevard and University Drive.

“Sometimes perception and reality are not aligned,” said Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association CEO Charles Gauthier.

He told Business in Vancouver that his organisation does not conduct annual safety audits because he fears that talking about a problem, such as personal safety, will likely exacerbate it.

Instead of measuring a perception of crime, the DVBIA has a security consultant who conducts security audits of businesses to help them become safer.

The organisation also employs six loss prevention officers who roam the downtown and go in stores in an attempt to find shoplifters and those who are breaking into vehicles.

“Our loss-prevention officers are not armed, but they do make arrests,” Gauthier said.

The Robson Street Business Improvement Association and the South Granville Business Improvement Association also employ loss-prevention officers.

Although crime can happen everywhere, Gauthier said that personal safety is not an issue that his association’s members regularly bring up.

Bigger concerns are taxes, access to parking and street beautification and cleanliness.

Burnaby’s North Road Business Improvement Association similarly does not conduct safety audits. Nor does the Burnaby Board of Trade (BBOT).

“There’s crime everywhere, but we don’t hear of it as being a significant concern here in Burnaby generally speaking,” said Paul Holden, who is CEO of the BBOT and a member of the City of Burnaby’s public safety committee.

He said concerned business owners in Burnaby can get information from the Business Watch program, a collaborative initiative between the City of Burnaby, the RCMP and the business community. It provides tools and resources, such as crime maps that highlight what crimes are common in different parts of the city.