Fourth-year SFU criminology student Alex Dibnah completed her third coop term with the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association this summer. As the safety intern, she surveyed local businesses to track their perception of safety.

Undergraduate, Students, Co-op

From the classroom to the real-world: SFU student addresses needle problem in Surrey

October 15, 2021
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By Allen Tung, SFU News

Businesses in downtown Surrey say they are finding more used needles discarded on their property, and it’s spreading to previously unaffected areas in the neighbourhood.

That’s what SFU criminology student Alex Dibnah learned from business owners while conducting a safety audit for the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association (DSBIA) as part of her four-month co-op term. Dibnah is one of 100 SFU students who completed work terms in Surrey this summer.

Since 2005, the DSBIA has hired 70 SFU co-op students to perform essential work such as the annual safety audit, where ground-level businesses in downtown Surrey are surveyed to track changes in their perception of safety and crime in the area.

Bonnie Burnside, the DSBIA’s manager, says SFU students like Dibnah bring new perspectives and unique skills to the important community work they do, notably the ability to conduct research, and to critically analyze, understand and solve an issue.

To that end, Dibnah, who just wrapped up her third co-op term at the DSBIA, researched best practices to curb the used, discarded needle problem in downtown Surrey.

She put forward five recommendations: limiting the number of needles distributed, adopting needles that retract after use, setting up disposal boxes, educating users on how to properly dispose needles, and expanding and increasing funding for an existing needle recovery program.

The Whalley Integrated Services Team, a partnership between the Surrey RCMP, local services and stakeholders, plans to implement these some of these recommendations to create a safer neighbourhood.

“We are always looking to come up with solutions to issues and concerns in our community, and for new or better ways to do what we do,” says Burnside, noting eight SFU students were hired this summer.

“Students who are exposed to different ways of thinking are able to take on the challenge of developing new solutions, rather than regurgitating the status quo.”

Dibnah has also benefitted, saying it has been crucial for her to be able to go out into the field to apply what she has learned. It has also changed her perception on what an arts and criminology degree can do.

“At first it seemed with criminology, it was either lawyer, police officer or corrections officer,” she says. “Finding a job like this has let me see that you can do so much more. You can do public safety and crime prevention work.”

Dibnah has two more semesters left in her undergraduate program. She plans to complete a master’s degree and hopes to work with municipalities and their police forces on crime prevention.

Next steps

Speak with a Co-op Advisor to find out how you can participate in the co-op program.

See a Criminology Undergraduate Advisor for details on how taking co-op will affect your CRIM program.