Could Surrey find 800-plus officers for its new force by 2021?

While Mayor Doug McCallum insists it can be done, SFU criminology professor doubts timeline

While Mayor Doug McCallum insists 800-plus officers can be hired for the proposed Surrey Police Department within less than two years, a criminology professor says it will be a “major challenge” by the city’s anticipated launch date of April 1, 2021.

“The proposed start date is a bit tight. I’d be surprised if they make it through,” said SFU professor Rob Gordon. “Where are all these officers going to come from?”

“Much will depend on the response on the part of the provincial government and indirectly the response of the Justice Institute,” he added.

“I’m assuming that they’ve been there and asked them what they think about being able to train people in a hurry, which is never good, but is about all they’ll be able to do here unless there are a large number of serving RCMP that will transfer over.”

SEE MORE: First look at Surrey’s policing transition report

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Gordon questioned the extent to which Surrey RCMP officers would transfer to the new municipal force.

“Most young people join the RCMP and stay with it because they want to be Mounties and do other things, Mountie-type things,” he said. “That can be provincial policing, it can be federal policing which is very attractive to a large number of people. There are links from the Mounties to other policing-type activities. So the prospect of doing policing overseas, these are all very much on peoples’ minds. Then of course there’s the musical ride.”

Further, Gordon said he doesn’t foresee a mass exodus from the Vancouver Police Department or other municipal forces nearby.

“I don’t think the willingness will be there, and they can’t go around offering bonuses,” he said.

Gordon also highlighted the impact of the restructuring of ranks in the proposed force, creating a high ratio of constables. The transition plan states “84 per cent of Surrey PD officers will be constables,” in an effort to “maximize the number of frontline practitioners.”

“So I think that is going to be interesting,” said Gordon, “because I don’t know how many of the existing supervisors, sergeants and inspectors, would want to remain with Surrey Police Department. They’re not going to want to turn in their stripes and crowns in order to be a constable in the Surrey Police Department. Can’t see that happening, I just can’t.”

And Gordon said a department with a high percentage of rookies is not ideal.

“But in many ways that’s where this is heading,” he noted. “It’s a problem if there’s a mass of expertise that leaves.”

But Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said he is “very confident” the force will be fully staffed by the projected transition date of April 1, 2021. He said there has already been “a lot of interest” from Surrey RCMP officers in switching over, as well as from other local municipal forces.

McCallum told the Now-Leader the city has also been in touch with the Justice Institute and that “they certainly can ramp up to produce more police officers once we go ahead. So we’re quite confident we’ll be able to get our 805 officers up by 2021.”

But that hinges on provincial approval being achieved – and fast.

“The only exception that I would put to it is that as long as the province gives us a fairly quick go-ahead. The longer they delay it, it’s going to be harder to meet the deadline,” the mayor noted.

“The one concern we have is they do need to make a decision fairly quickly, because we do have a tight timeline,” McCallum added, saying he’d like to see approval before the summer break.

The Surrey Policing Transition Report notes that a Chief Constable would ideally be hired between July and September of this year, to get the ball rolling in creating the force – and to keep the timeline on track.

McCallum said an interim chief could be hired, ahead of the formation of a police board that would select a permanent chief.

“It all depends on how long the province takes,” he told the Now-Leader. “The province has to give us a yes or a no. Also having to look at setting up a police board, which will take time.”

“Before that would happen, we’d probably need to have an interim police chief, or we might call it an interim something else, until such time the board is formed.”

In an emailed statement, Justice Institute of British Columbia President Dr. Michel Tarko said “we would do whatever is necessary to accommodate the additional demand and expand our training capacity” if Surrey’s municipal force is approved.

The Justice Institute trains roughly 108 recruits per year, according to a statement, with the “pinnacle” of 210 graduates in the year prior to the Vancouver Olympics.

“However, this number is completely dependent on the hiring that municipal police departments do,” the statement adds. “This is a post-employment program that reflects police recruit training only after they have been hired by the police department and sworn in as constables.”

JIBC’s statement notes it is mandated by the province to train municipal police officers and that it is “in discussions with the Province of British Columbia to develop a strategy in the event the Surrey Policing Transition Plan is approved.”



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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