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Julie Paskall died on Dec. 31, 2013, after being beaten outside a Newton hockey rink.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Julie Paskall was beaten outside a Newton rink in December and later died, prompting an outcry in the sprawling Surrey neighbourhood and forcing officials to once again confront the city's stubborn reputation as a crime haven. Last year, the Lower Mainland's second largest city set a grim record of 25 homicides, ending when the 53-year-old died of her injuries on the morning of New Year's Eve.

By the end of March, 2013, 11 people had been killed in Surrey. But only a single homicide had been counted by that point in 2014.

But despite the reduction in homicides, most other types of crimes have increased, highlighting the volatility of statistics, said Surrey RCMP spokesman Sergeant Dale Carr, who called them a "snapshot in time."

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"We aren't going to stand up and pound our chests about this," he cautioned. "These things move in crests and valleys, we're in a valley now, but three people could be killed tomorrow."

Robert M. Gordon, a criminology professor and associate dean at Simon Fraser University, warned that a 51-per-cent increase in property crime in the first three months of 2014 could be skewed because the figure relies almost completely on self-reporting.

"People are inclined to report something if they have insurance on it," he said. Several years ago, he ran a study on property crimes and says that when insurance deductibles increase for those crimes, the reported numbers drop.

Doug Elford, a spokesman for a local community organization in Newton, agreed that part of the property-crime increase may come from more reporting, especially after the record murder rate in 2013. He also believes that part of the problem may be a slow migration of crime from Whalley, the smaller neighbourhood to the north.

Once Surrey's roughest neighbourhood with a reputation for prostitution and drug addiction, Whalley has seen the beginning of widespread redevelopment as large public buildings and condo towers spring up around SkyTrain stations in the area.

By comparison, Newton is the largest community in Surrey. Culturally diverse, the area's population has grown quickly over the past decade to more than 130,000.

In the months after Ms. Paskall's murder, 50 officers were redeployed as part of a task force to bring down the city's homicide rate. With an expertise in surveillance, some officers who once chased property crimes were reassigned to active investigations. According to Mr. Carr, some of those redeployments may be responsible for the increases in other crimes.

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"People being shot and people being assaulted are a higher priority for us," he said. One of those investigations recently concluded with three men being charged with sexual assault. Those officers are now being redeployed, some to their old posts.

Two weeks after announcing that 95 more RCMP officers would be added to Surrey over the next five years, Mayor Dianne Watts's office declined comment about the increased crime figures. The mayor's last year has been dominated by updates about task forces she struck to reduce crime.

The city is currently working through the first installations of a municipal camera surveillance system and plans to arm community constables, a new program to supplement existing community safety positions staffed by private security guards.

Despite the pledges of more officers, the local community worries that changes will take decades to implement and most will continue to link Surrey with crime.

"We've been telling them about these problems for decades, I don't want to say 'I told you so,' but this won't be going away soon," said Mr. Elford.

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About the Author
Ontario legislative reporter

Based in Toronto, Justin Giovannetti is The Globe and Mail’s Ontario legislative reporter. He previously worked out of the newspaper’s Edmonton, Toronto and B.C. bureaus. He is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University and has also worked for CTV in Quebec. More


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