The death of Surrey mom Julie Paskall in December 2013 brought national headlines to Newton for all the wrong reasons.
Paskall was killed in a botched robbery attempt while waiting outside the Newton Arena for her son to finish refereeing a minor hockey game. Her killer pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year.
The event galvanized the local community, forcing the issue of crime and safety to the forefront. The Newton Business Improvement Association (BIA), officially launched in September 2014 after a few years in the making, has been one of the groups leading the charge to lower the crime rate in the area.
The Newton BIA has initiated a four-pronged approach to crime reduction and overall operation: safety, area enhancement, events and government relations. It has started a monthly RCMP-led community walk, a graffiti removal project, a street cleanup program, a “take back the block” party in an area known for prostitution and a long-term economic revitalization plan.
Jaspal Brar, owner of JSB Insurance Agency Ltd., which is headquartered in Newton under the umbrella of Canadian insurance co-operative the Co-operators, said he’s noticed the difference lately.
“Over the last few years a lot of the vacancies are being taken over with redevelopments; businesses are coming into our area,” Brar said. “It’s all been pretty positive, especially in the past few years.”
Surrey RCMP second-quarter crime statistics for 2015 show an 8% drop in Criminal Code offences for District 5 (Newton), while the city’s overall crime rate has risen 6%. The largest drop in Newton has been in property crime, which fell 15% since the second quarter of 2014. Break-and-enter incidents dropped 26%, and thefts of motor vehicles – an issue that has plagued the city for many years – are down 47%. In 2002 Surrey had the highest rate of auto theft in the country, earning it the unfortunate distinction of being the car-theft capital of North America.
Brar said he’s noticed a decline in car-theft claims by customers at his business – a drop he’s OK with taking a financial hit on.
“Even from the insurance side of it, the claims side, we’ve noticed it as well,” he said. “From a business perspective we haven’t seen a rise in claims in respect to vandalism or burglary or robbery. From a business owner’s perspective, we see very little now. The community here is really quiet; it shuts down around 5 or 6 o’clock. It’s been nice to see.”
Philip Aguirre, executive director of the Newton BIA, said since the organization launched in September 2014, it has grown to 350 members and an annual operating budget of $400,000. He said the violent crime rate in Newton, which has risen 39% since the second quarter of last year, is still a serious issue.
“It’s a process, and it’s going to take some time,” Aguirre said, noting that the biggest overall goal the BIA has undertaken is getting the area to operate as one unit and break from separate “silos” or isolated community pockets within the local area.
“It’s interesting, if you take the population of Newton, which is 146,000 people, that makes us the fifth-largest city in the province,” he added. “So we’re trying to bring everyone to one table – the youth, the RCMP, the community, the businesses and the government. And I think if we can do that we can be a lot more powerful because we can act as one. We can dictate change.”
Aguirre, who also runs the Old Surrey Restaurant, said the revitalization of the area starts with simple projects such as a weekly garbage pickup that combats the “broken windows theory,” a criminology term that describes the effect of unkempt, vandalized urban centres on local crime rates.
“The idea is to get the town centre beautified,” he said. “Meaning that if it’s clean, the streets are looking good, [but] if people are driving down our main corridors of King George or 72nd and they see garbage or they see graffiti, they link those to larger issues like crime. And if they see garbage on the corner and they see someone who is panhandling, they’ll link that to some of the tragedies that we’ve had throughout the year.”