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Walking the talk

The number of fires and break-ins in an at-risk neighbourhood in Surrey, B.C., dropped significantly after a one-day education and safety blitz conducted by firefighters and RCMP officers.

September 6, 2012 
By Len Garis Fraser MacRae and Joe Clare

The number of fires and break-ins in an at-risk neighbourhood in Surrey, B.C., dropped significantly after a one-day education and safety blitz conducted by firefighters and RCMP officers.

Members of the Surrey Fire Services and the Surrey RCMP are briefed before the start of an education campaign, which resulted in a 64 per cent drop in break-and-enters and a 19 per cent drop in the annual rate of house fires.
Photo courtesy Surrey Fire ServiceS


Through a joint initiative of the Surrey Fire Service (SFS) and Surrey RCMP, teams of firefighters and RCMP officers went door to door in the summer of 2010 distributing educational materials to homes in the Newton neighbourhood. The results included a 64 per cent reduction in break and enters and a 19 per cent drop in the annual rate of house fires following the program.

“Improving safety in our community is a shared goal of the Surrey RCMP and Surrey Fire Services,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Fraser MacRae, who is in charge of the Surrey detachment. “This program illustrates that by working together, we can deliver on our organizations’ public safety objectives in a more proactive and effective way.”


The initiative grew from the City of Surrey’s neighbourhood-development efforts in the Newton area. The RCMP had identified Newton as a hot spot for opportunistic break-and-enters, the result of people leaving doors or windows open or unattended. SFS identified a higher-than-average percentage of cooking fires in Newton after working with the city’s geographic information system (GIS) to cross-reference fire data with addresses in the target neighbourhood. Education packages containing crime, fire-safety and smoke-alarm information were then compiled for distribution as part of the Safer Summer campaign.

“We didn’t blindly approach this – we know that distributing educational information to residents at their homes is effective,” Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis explained. “There is a large body of international research on this topic, and we’ve seen the results firsthand here in Surrey with our HomeSafe fire safety program.”

The initiative went into action on a summer evening in 2010, when about 80 RCMP and SFS members converged on a unified command post set up in the parking lot of the local recreation centre. The contingent included auxiliary police officers and volunteer firefighters, along with off-duty RCMP officers and career firefighters. 

Participants were split into teams of four – two RCMP, two firefighters – and received a list of addresses and a 30-minute briefing on the campaign’s objectives: to provide information on summer crime and fire safety, and to show that the city’s fire and police services are working together.

One firefighter and one RCMP officer approached each address, providing the residents with a brief explanation of the Safer Summer campaign before handing them the information package. If no one was home, the packages were hung on the front doorknob.

Team leaders monitored the progress throughout the evening, reporting back to the command unit regularly. Four hours later, the teams had knocked on about 2,200 doors, making direct contact with residents in about 60 per cent of the households.

Both agencies found that the initiative had achieved its primary goal – improved community safety – after analyzing the results a year following the intervention.

For its analysis, the RCMP asked residents who had been approached during the campaign if they had been the target of break-and-enters, and if so, whether the incidents were the result of them leaving their doors and windows unsecured or unattended.

The results were significant. The RCMP findings indicate the campaign may have contributed to an overall 64 per cent reduction in break-and-enters in the targeted area (a decrease of 30 incidents). As well, the overall number of opportunistic break-and-enters in the target area decreased to eight from 30, or 78 per cent, over three years.

A post-campaign evaluation by SFS also revealed positive results. After analyzing data for the two years before and one year following the campaign, the department found a 19 per cent reduction in the annual rate of residential fires (per 1,000 dwellings) in the target area (to 1.30 from 1.60). There was also an increase in the number of days between fires post-intervention, to one fire every 128.3 days from one fire every 104.1 days pre-intervention.

It should be noted that a total of 10 fires occurred during the three-year evaluation period; given such a small sample size, there is a high risk of variation due to chance. The number of homes visited during the campaign represented about 1.6 per cent of all non-apartment residences in Surrey at that time.

Beyond any reduction in crime and fires, however, the initiative offered considerable value to the City of Surrey because it further strengthened the relationship between the community’s fire and police services. The two agencies have successfully collaborated on issues of shared interest in the past, such as motor vehicle accident responses.

Since the initiative, Surrey RCMP and SFS have made an effort to demonstrate their close working relationship to the community at non-emergency events, such as parades and civic festivals. Consideration is also being given to other potential partnership opportunities in the future.

“This was a community problem, and Surrey’s community services came together to try to combat that problem,” Chief Garis said. “By partnering and sharing resources, we can work more effectively and strategically. Ultimately, our community is the winner here.”

Len Garis is the fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C., and is an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley and a member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies (ICURS), Simon Fraser University.
Dr. Joe Clare, the strategic planning analyst for the Surrey Fire Service, is also an associate professor in the Crime Research Centre, University of Western Australia, and a member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies (ICURS), Simon Fraser University.
Until his retirement on May 31, 2012, Fraser MacRae was the assistant commissioner, officer in charge, at the RCMP detachment in Surrey.

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