Surrey’s top cop has penned an open letter to the community in the wake of another deadly flare up of gun violence in the city.
Earlier this week, popular Cloverdale minor hockey coach and Peace Arch Hospital nurse Paul Bennett was gunned down in his driveway. Earlier this month, 17-year-old Jaskaran “Jesse” Bhangal and 16-year-old Jaskarn “Jason” Jhutty were also fatally shot.
None of the three had criminal records, and the killings have put the community on edge.
On Thursday, Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, the officer in charge of the Surrey RCMP, wrote to residents to address growing concerns.
“This is not who we are as a city,” McDonald wrote.
“Together with our partners at the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) and Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC), we are working non-stop to find those responsible for these deplorable crimes and bring them to justice.”
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But McDonald went on to acknowledge that efforts of police to curb gang violence are now under the microscope.
“When violence hits our community, the efforts and performance of police are often called into question. As your police chief I fully accept this,” he wrote.
However, he said he remains confident in the Surrey RCMP’s policing model, and praised the efforts of officers on the ground, whom he said put their lives at risk on a daily basis.
Many of them live in Surrey and spend much of their careers there, he said.
“They care about this community and keeping Surrey residents safe,” McDonald wrote.
“We coach your children, volunteer at your schools, attend your places of worship and, like you, take any violence in this city personally.”
McDonald went on to highlight the detachment’s efforts to tackle the gang problem that has proliferated in the last four years.
He said the force has increased enforcement action, expanded its own gang unit, integrated more closely with the CFSEU and expanded the number of RCMP-led youth initiatives in the city to 17.
He said the detachment and Surrey School District have also been reaching out to parents to highlight how they engage with students during the school year.
“This issue of gang and gun violence is playing out across the Lower Mainland however, as a city with a large youth population, Surrey is a target for those looking to lure young people into the drug trade,” McDonald wrote.
“Combatting this issue is my top priority.”
WATCH: Surrey gang prevention program
McDonald said the detachment’s approach to addressing the issue is to promote positive choices among youth and provide information and support to parents, while using enforcement to ensure those who break the law are put behind bars.
The approach may not be enough for critics.
Earlier this month, a rally against gang violence in the city drew more than 1,000 attendees, including retired Surrey RCMP S/Sgt. Jack Hundial, who said the city has only 20 RCMP liaison officers for 150 schools.
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The detachment has also added 100 new policing positions in recent years, however critics say their presence hasn’t been felt.
Journalist and rally organizer Gurpreet Lucky Sahota told CKNW’s Lynda Steele Show that about two-thirds of those new officers are green recruits, not seasoned officers.
He added that he feels the Surrey RCMP, with about 800 members, is under-resourced, compared to the Vancouver Police Department which has about 1,300 officers for a similarly-sized population.