The fast-track effort to create a customized city police service in Surrey B.C. Canada is a perfect example of what Harvard’s John Kotter calls a “false sense of urgency.” In this case the costly adventure is fueled more by smoke and mirrors than thoughtful change leadership.
Successful change starts with an actual sense of urgency combined with a clear purpose attached to a sound 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 Canada is Kotter’s “false sense of urgency” complete with stage props, bright lights, loud noise, and manufactured panic when no real problems exist.
Whether it’s the existing contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or a new 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:
“Fear of crime” can be a political mind game
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 than hard facts. But the fact is a blue stripe on a uniform replacing the RCMP yellow stripe won’t change our basis neurology and physiology. Scary crime is scary crime no matter how small or what police service.
Does a fast-growing population mean more demand for policing?
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% between 2001 and 2016 while the senior’s group grew 29%. Do certain politicians really believe that a Surrey City Police Department can influence natural demographic changes?
Surrey is also facing a dramatic growth of people living in high-rise 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 neighborhoods. If there is any “urgency” in Surrey it is affordable housing and density planning, something not the responsibility of any police service.
Economic growth can mean more crime
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 including property crime, theft, and assaults.
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 wellbeing 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 the above 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 is at best fractured; and the vision of what will be appears very blurred.