The Surrey School District hired a small army of security guards to patrol the city’s 125 public schools on Halloween, generally the big night for vandalism and other mischief.
“We had more than 100 extra guards hired for that night, security guards, and we also had dedicated patrols, so this would be two or three vehicles, going from site to site, just checking in,” district spokesman Doug Strachan said. “We also had about 50 or so Safe School staff, all hands on deck. The main focus is if we have a presence, and there are people seen on the school grounds, then it acts as a deterrent.
And what happened?
“The report I have is there was one broken window, one garbage container found smouldering and put out, and other than that there was some debris, a mess made, and the costs estimated at less than $500 in vandalism-related charges,” Strachan reports.
“There were some crowds dispersed, small groups, but in our experience they start small and can grow from there. There was no real confrontations, just the presence, move the crowds and move people along.”
Strachan said he didn’t yet have the cost breakdown for this campaign but noted it can’t be done all the time. “It’s just cost prohibitive. It takes a lot of resources, and there’s money spent, but you’re looking to recoup the investment in the time and staff, by the savings on vandalism.
“We’ve had Halloweens were there’s been fires, there’s been a couple, and of course one fire, can be tens of thousands of dollars or higher, and the cost of graffiti removal can be thousands.”
A fire at L’Ecole Gabriel Roy school in Fleetwood lit up the Halloween night sky in 1999, resulting in millions of dollars of damage. Two 17-year-old Delta youths, who had been students at the school at the time, were charged with arson.
Strachan said the district has seen a decrease in vandalism overall, through initiatives like the one staged this past Halloween night. “It may change in scale, from year to year. There was no rain this year, so we were probably more cautious, because the rain acts as a deterrent and weather plays a role. But we’ve seen our annual vandalism costs decreased from in the neighbourhood of $800,000 ten years ago to under $400,000.”
Just before Halloween Surrey School District’s Safe Schools department sent out a public bulleting asking residents to keep their “eyes and ears open” and report suspicious activity to help keep vandalism down after the district spent $317,052 to repair vandalism last year.
“This money could have supported our students in many different ways,” the bulletin read. “The Surrey School Board remains focussed on reducing this expense.”
The district asked residents to “help to watch for anyone ‘hanging around’ our schools, particularly after dark on Halloween,” and provided a dedicated line they could call.
Strachan said there were no reports to security guard from the public this year, “We’ve had them in the past, and they’ve been full. We like to believe by being present in the community, where schools are, also acts as a deterrent for vandalism within the neighborhood.”
Meantime, in a two-week period leading up to and after Halloween night Surrey bylaws officers seized roughly $150,000 in fireworks, said Jas Rehal, bylaws manager. As for Halloween night itself, Rehal said, “It was a busy night but nothing out of the normal for Halloween. I wouldn’t characterize it as a bad Halloween night.”