Executive representatives of the National Police Federation – bargaining unit for close to 20,000 RCMP officers across Canada, and 850 in Surrey – have slammed Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s proposal to transition to a municipal force to members of the Surrey Board of Trade.
In a ‘Surrey Digital Town Hall’ Zoom meeting hosted by SBOT on Wednesday (Feb. 24), NPF president Brian Sauve and Pacific Region board member Trevor Dinwoodie charged that the city has no practical plan for providing policing for residents and businesses when the Surrey RCMP contract expires on March 31.
“What that will look like, nobody knows,” Sauve said, adding that estimated costs of the transition have “tripled – from $19 million to $64 million.”
But it’s not just costs to Surrey taxpayers that should be of concern, Sauve told participants in the town hall, which also included South Surrey-White Rock MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay and Surrey councillors Linda Annis, Brenda Locke and Steven Pettigrew.
He and Dinwoodie said that attempting to replace 850 RCMP officers with new Surrey Police Services members – at a time when recruiting police officers is a nation-wide challenge – would drain a dwindling supply of personnel from other municipalities.
“It will destabilize policing across the Lower Mainland,” Sauve said.
Sauve and Dinwoodie also claimed that – after 18 months in delays in the transition – it’s a myth that Surrey is irrevocably stuck with a municipal force.
“This is not a done deal,” Sauve said. “There’s been a bit of discussion that it is, that they’ve hired a chief – boom, done.”
Although the province has technically approved it, the decision is not binding, he suggested.
B.C. public safety minister and solicitor general Mike Farnworth has “every authority to withhold the grant or withhold approval for the police transition,” he said, urging those with concerns about the transition to write to Surrey’s mayor and council and all other levels of government.
While estimates vary, he noted, he believes that, based on Surrey’s size – the largest city by land area and the second most populated in Metro Vancouver – the community probably needs a complement of some 1,100 to 1,300 police officers.
He noted other municipalities currently share in the costs for the Green Timbers RCMP headquarters, a base for integrated services throughout Metro Vancouver.
“There is no plan for integrated services,” Sauve said.
How Surrey will make up for the withdrawal of such shared RCMP and Government of Canada services and infrastructure – ranging from everything from the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team to aerial units, emergency response teams, underwater rescue teams, forensic identification, explosive disposal and police dog services – is unknown, he said.
One year ago, Terry Waterhouse, general manager of the policing transition for the City of Surrey, said that while the details were still being worked out, the new SPS would continue to work with the Lower Mainland’s integrated police teams to maintain continuity in criminal investigations during the transition.
“We will maintain our support for the Lower Mainland integrated teams to ensure continuity of those important services and we will continue that cross-departmental collaboration that occurs through these integrated teams,” he said last February.
Also gone, Dinwoodie said, will be Surrey and the RCMP’s formerly “progressive” partnership in establishing community relationship-fostering initiatives to help reduce crime – something he has been closely involved in during a 17-year career spent almost entirely policing Surrey through such crises as the rise of gang violence and explosion of deadly opiate use among the homeless on the Whalley strip.
“Homelessness and addiction have had a massive impact on small business,” Sauve pointed out.
As a measure of the success of Surrey initiatives, he and Dinwoodie cited five-year figures recorded between 2014 and 2019 that showed a decline of crime in Surrey of 14.3 per cent, where the B.C. average was an increase of 15.78 per cent, and other centres in Canada posted increases all the way up to a 62 per cent spike in Winnipeg during the same period.
Another immediate victim of the impending transition would be the RCMP’s existing gang task force, they said.
Meeting host and SBOT chef executive officer Anita Huberman asked whether a different policing model would be as effective in reducing the influence of gangs in Surrey.
“To say that a municipal force is going to solve it is a bit of a pipe dream,” Dinwoodie said.
– with file by Tom Zytaruk