It was billed as public information meeting on policing in Surrey.
But the primary focus of the event, hosted by CARP of White Rock-South Surrey at RCL Branch 8 in South Surrey Tuesday night (Aug. 30), was the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign – with campaign organizer Ivan Scott very much in evidence.
Introduced by CARP president Ramona Kaptyn, who is running for council under the Surrey Connect banner, the meeting, which drew some 75 people, was also attended by the slate’s mayoral candidate, Coun. Brenda Locke.
And the latter was unequivocal in stating that, if elected, she would halt the transition from Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service championed by incumbent Mayor Doug McCallum.
Also attending the meeting, but not speaking, was Surrey First mayoral candidate Gordie Hogg, who has called for a public review of all costs and other factors regarding the transition – so far not made public – so that residents can make an informed decision on who they want policing them.
During the question period there was some push-back against the ‘preaching to the choir’ aspect of the event, from resident Orville Macdonald.
“I’m for what you say about the RCMP,” he said, “but I came to this meeting thinking I would get different viewpoints. I’m very disappointed that we’re not getting other sorts of opinions.”
But others at the meeting said that this was largely the result of a mayor and council majority who have chosen not to share the facts with Surrey residents.
“The information you’re looking for hasn’t been provided to us,” one woman commented.
Kaptyn acknowledged that representatives of the SPS had not been invited to the meeting, but said that CARP has previously approached both the SPS and the SPS board for information on behalf of members, with no result.
“All you hear from the SPS is that everything’s sweetness and light and no problems,” she told Peace Arch News after the meeting.
Principal speaker at the meeting was Trevor Dinwoodie, a director of the Pacific/North region for the National Police Federation, the recently-formed union for RCMP and other police organizations.
While he stopped short of endorsing specific candidates in the election, or recommending how to vote, his message was that the transition was “not a done deal.”
“There are zero legal mechanisms to move this forward,” he said.
Contacted by PAN, SPS media relations representative Ian MacDonald, countered that the transition is covered by four agreements: an 18-month assignment agreement covering the integration of SPS officers into the RCMP, an SPS-RCMP human resources plan; a memorandum of understanding between the federal government and B.C. and a memorandum of understanding between the province and the city.
Dinwoodie told the meeting that he had had grown up in Surrey and had chosen to live and work in Surrey for most of his career in the RCMP – one of many resident and locally-invested members of the force.
“Surrey RCMP members are not just people who have come from somewhere else in Canada,” he said, noting that the force has a high level of local accountability, and a very low percentage – around .008 of files handled per year – of complaints against officers.
He said there are other misconceptions about the force and the transition.
One, he said, is that the Surrey RCMP is contracted to the City of Surrey, whereas it is actually contracted to the provincial government.
But under provincial law, the policies of each municipal RCMP detachment are set by the mayor and council of that community, he said.
“Any officer in charge responds to what the mayor and council wants to do,” he said.
MacDonald disputed this, noting “the municipality (CEO) may set objectives, priorities and goals for the Municipal Police Unit (i.e. RCMP detachment), however the municipality plays no role in setting either RCMP or police board policies.”
In the case of Surrey, Dinwoodie said, the will of the majority of council has been to transition to a municipal force, even though that meant doing without the 10 per cent subsidy from the federal government (some $22 million per year) while also having to pay for a hefty insurance indemnification that is automatically covered for the RCMP.
MacDonald observed that indemnification “isn’t a no-cost item for anyone.”
“Whether you purchase insurance with taxpayers’ money locally or have taxpayers foot the bill nationally, the money comes from the same source – the taxpayer.”
Dinwoodie said costs of transition, originally announced in 2018 at $19 million, were, as of last year, estimated at $64 million, “plus another $18 million set aside for contingencies.”
MacDonald told PAN that, following announcement of start-up expenses, city council established a one-time transition budget of $45.2 million in 2019, which was increased to $63.7 million in 2020, due to a decision to build new IT infrastructure rather than relying on “current aging infrastructure.”
Even with a force of some 785 serving members – which has not materially increased since 2018 – crime statistics are declining, Dinwoodie said, registering a seven per cent dip in violent crime, a six per cent drop in property crime and a seven per cent decline in break and enters over the past year.
“What other city the size of Surrey would go into such a costly transition without making a cost-benefit analysis or a feasibility study?” he added.
MacDonald said that two studies were completed in 2019 – a Surrey Policing Transition Plan and a report of the Provincial Municipal Policing Transition Committee – but that both were subject to modification once the Surrey Police Board and chief constable were in place and that “over the past two years the model for SPS has begun to be refined.”
Dinwoodie said that – on a practical level – SPS officers are still working under the control and direction of Surrey RCMP. That could still be the case as much as five years from now, he added.
MacDonald agreed that the first phase of transition retained RCMP command, but said that while the second phase timeline for change of command has been agreed on “conceptually,” SPS becoming the “police of jurisdiction “will require approval by the Province of BC.”
If the SPS were to be disbanded, officers would not be out of a job long, he suggested.
“They’re classed as experienced police officers and they’ve already received top RCMP security clearance,” he told PAN.
“There should be no trouble absorbing them into other police departments across the Lower Mainland.”
Other acquisitions of the SPS – including equipment and infrastructure – could also be absorbed into the Surrey RCMP, he said.
“We might be able to salvage quite a few things, although we’ll still be out millions,” he added.
MacDonald also disputed this scenario.
“All SPS officers resigned from their previous agencies and are employed by the Surrey Police Board and represented by the Surrey Police Union. They would not simply be ‘absorbed’ into other detachments/departments – they would need to choose to apply and go through the application process.
“There are rules for procurement of equipment and ownership issues that would preclude the RCMP from “absorbing” equipment procured by and for SPS,” he added.
“A cancellation of the policing transition would also involve an 18 month notice period required for all sworn members of the Surrey Police Union, and dissolution of a police union and police board.”
Speaking at the meetingDinwoodie underlined that he does not take issue with those already employed as SPS officers.
“This is not an anti-SPS thing,” he said. “They are police officers, and I will give them the shirt off my back. I don’t want to take this out on SPS officers.
“But this has been done haphazardously…very quietly jammed down everybody’s throat.”