Surrey Councillor Brenda Locke is taking another shot at the proposed police transition plan, saying it would cut the current Surrey RCMP Police Mental Health and Outreach Team in half.
“The Transition Report is recommending that mental health team be reduced to only 11 officers comprised of one sergeant and ten constables. The report suggests that the police will work with ‘community partners’ to streamline the service,” Locke stated in an Aug. 13 release.
“That may be Vancouver’s solution, but they have significantly more health care facilities and resources. It’s risky here because Surrey has not kept pace with the social and health care infrastructure needs of a city our size,” said Locke. “Surrey’s PMHOT is in high demand with calls such as domestic violence, complex mental break downs, suicide attempts, psychotic breaks, people living at high risk (homeless) as well as problematic substance use and addiction. The PMHOT works with many patients providing immediate mental health exams in their homes and linking them services to help divert them from our City’s only hospital.”
According to Locke, the current Surrey RCMP Police Mental Health and Outreach Team is made up of 21 officers: one staff sergeant, two corporals each with eight constables. In addition, she states four psychiatric nurses work with those officers.
Surrey RCMP told the Now-Leader Tuesday morning that the PMHOT currently has 20 officers.
Locke, former Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services, said she finds it “unconscionable” that the Mayor Doug McCallum’s Police Transition Report would reduce the police mental health team by 50 per cent.
She notes the transition report itself acknowledged that in some jurisdictions, up to 40 per cent of all police calls involve an individual with an apparent mental illness.
“While other cities like are building similar teams for their own communities our Mayor is tearing ours down. This makes no sense at all,” Locke stated in the release.
“Surrey residents should be concerned about the Mayor’s direction of policing and public safety in general in our city. There must be proper checks and balances to ensure our public safety improves,” she added. “Something as important as policing and public safety needs to have effective, open discussion and healthy debate. We need to raise the bar, get beyond politics, and go through the Transition Report line by line. Mistakes in policing have very real consequences for our vulnerable citizens and for the community as a whole.”
A spokesman in the Mayor’s Office said McCallum was not available for comment on Tuesday.
This is the second time Locke has slammed the proposed policing transition plan. In mid-June, she criticized the report for reducing police officers for Sophie’s Place’s Child and Youth Abuse Team, saying it “fails abused children” by reducing the minimum number of officers based there from 11 to seven.
At the time, Mayor Doug McCallum said in an emailed statement that “the information Councillor Locke is providing amounts to fearmongering.”
“Staffing levels for Surrey Police, just as it is now for Surrey RCMP, is determined by the Chief of Police,” the mayor said. “The proposed staffing model in the Surrey Policing Transition Report is a starting point and officers can be moved and added to sections as deemed appropriate by the SPD Chief. It should be noted that under the new SPD model the 7 officers dedicated to Sophie’s Place would be complimented by and is part of a larger Special Investigations Section.”
Not even two weeks later, Locke announced she was parting ways with McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, slamming the mayor’s so-called “my-way-or-the-highway approach.”
Councillors Jack Hundial and Steven Pettigrew have also split from the slate, attributing their departures to what they describe as a lack of transparency and consultation on council and with the public.
Hundial split after the mayor dissolved the city’s Public Safety Committee – which all of council sat on – in favour of his new Interim Police Transition Committee for a not-yet-approved force.
All three have expressed serious concern over the proposed transition plan.
The plan is currently in the hands of the provincial government, which must approve the proposed force before it can move forward.
The City of Surrey’s proposed transition plan to convert from RCMP states the force will “go live” on April 1, 2021 and its operating costs will be $192.5 million that year.
That’s a 10.9 per cent increase from the $173.6 million the city projects the RCMP would cost that year. The report states that a unionization drive is underway within the RCMP and if achieved, “the gap between the cost of the Surrey RCMP and the cost of the Surrey PD would be eliminated.”
There are also an estimated $39.2 million in start-up costs.
While the proposed municipal force would have fewer officers, the report says it would have more staff overall.
Currently, Surrey RCMP has 843 members although the city report says 51 of those positions are vacant, meaning a “funded strength” of 792 officers. There are also 302 City of Surrey employees supporting the RCMP.
Surrey RCMP, however, says they don’t have 51 vacant positions but that those positions are created to cover temporary vacancies, when needed, such as maternity or sick leaves.
“It is important to note that we currently have a full complement of police officers at Surrey Detachment,” Surrey RCMP said in an emailed statement after the report’s release.
The transition report suggests a new municipal force in Surrey would have 805 police officers, 325 civilian positions and 20 Community Safety Personnel.