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AND FRANKLY: Political gamesmanship over policing in Surrey has been costly

‘Reach for your wallets,’ columnist Frank Bucholtz tells Surrey taxpayers

Surrey council is taking another step towards Mayor Brenda Locke’s stated goal of fully returning to the RCMP fold.

In fact, the city never left. Although one of the first acts of the council elected in 2018 was to work towards establishing a municipal police force, Surrey Police Service supplies just a portion of the actual policing service. Surrey RCMP remains the police agency of jurisdiction, and does the vast majority of policing work.

Council heard Monday night from Asst. Cmsr. Brian Edwards, officer in charge of Surrey RCMP, and also received a report on steps needed to go back fully to the RCMP. A final plan to retain the RCMP will come in a detailed staff report Dec. 12. That report will go to Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, who must approve any policing changes.

The preliminary report states that Surrey RCMP have an authorized strength of 785 members, with 51 of those assigned to Lower Mainland integrated teams. While the RCMP local strength is supposedly set at 734, in fact there are currently 573 RCMP members actually working in Surrey, working with 168 SPS members. Total current local policing strength is 741 members.

The city plans to have the report asking that the RCMP become Surrey’s sole police agency on Farnworth’s desk before Christmas and hopes he will approve it sometime in January. If that timetable comes to fruition, the report states that SPS could start to be wound down by March, 2023.

Estimated police budget costs for 2023 are $202.4 million, but that could change significantly, depending on the provincial decision and whether there is co-operation from Surrey Police Board, which thus far has not happened. There could also be significant extra severance costs if most SPS members refuse to move over to the RCMP, as the Surrey Police union has already stated will be the case.

Significant legal agreements must be negotiated. As the report states: “The budget and practical implications of a holding pattern on deployment and demobilization while these legal agreements are prepared and signed off are significant, and will require the city to continue to fund through most of 2023 a complement of non-deployed SPS police officers far in excess of the city’s ability to pay.”

Reach for your wallets.

Surrey RCMP will need to hire an additional 161 police officers to get to the current strength of 734, and hopefully police strength will be increased substantially after that number is achieved.

Recruiting will be focused on SPS members, SPS trainees, RCMP cadets and other police agencies. It will be a tall order to find that many police officers, given the challenges the Surrey Police Board has had in recruiting, the overall employment market and the ongoing turmoil over policing in Surrey over the past four years.

Former mayor Doug McCallum’s trial on charges of public mischief, and acquittal last week, is perhaps the best illustration of how toxic the whole discussion has been for the entire community.

Hopefully that will be the end of such extreme anger and divisiveness.

The residents of Surrey deserve the best possible police service, and will be paying far more for policing over the next few years, as the final police model is determined and put into place. The political gamesmanship and public dissension over this issue has and will cost taxpayers dearly, and has not been good for the morale of both RCMP and SPS members.

Here’s hoping that 2023 will see positive strides in the job of policing Surrey – one of the most important public services any city provides.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.