SURREY – Though Surrey’s RCMP detachment has some 673 officers, Coun. Barinder Rasode said she’s learned only 598 of them are active.
It’s a question she raised earlier this year at a police committee meeting and she said she’s only just received her answer this week.
Some 75 officers are "non-roadable," she said, meaning they are on parental, sick or other leave.
Rasode said this translates to 36 general duty officers per shift at any given time, and said she’s been told by those doing the work that the number for a city as large as Surrey should be 50.
"It’s very upsetting," she said. "Officers are upset and fed up. They are raising their families here and are impacted by crime. This level or lack of officers definitely has impact on the officers’ ability. I can’t imagine the stress level and workload they’re dealing with."
The Surrey RCMP declined comment on the number of active duty officers Friday but released a statement saying they would not be releasing the number of staff members available for general duty shifts due to public and officer safety concerns. However, police said the "36" number "significantly understates the actual number of resources policing the City of Surrey."
In the release, the RCMP also reiterate that "policing a city goes far beyond general duty. We have numerous specialized units who are also actively on duty, providing police service to the City of Surrey. These units include Investigative Services, Traffic, Bike Unit, Special Victims Unit, Crime Reduction Units, Drug Section, Surrey Gang
Enforcement Team, Robbery Unit and many more.
"While each of these units are tasked with specific duties, they are actively patrolling the streets and reacting to incidents that occur as well as supporting patrol officers in specific investigations."
Rasode noted that while she understood the RCMP’s reasons for not disclosing the number of general duty officers, they also haven’t denied her figure. She also felt it was important to highlight the difference between general duty officers and those in other units.
"For me one of the things that’s important is the number 36 is specific to general duty officers," she said. "They are the frontline support for businesses and residents. When I’m told the number should be 50, I want to support that and my intention is to get proper resources so that the community is being served properly."
WHERE IS THE PROMISED SCRUTINY, MCCALLUM ASKS Mayoral candidate Doug McCallum says the police released the general duty officer figures as a result of three Access to Information requests he made earlier this week.
A representative for McCallum’s campaign said while they never received the documents showing the numbers themselves and admitted their requests have yet to be processed, they believe McCallum’s request prompted the RCMP to come forward with the figures.
The former mayor is also pointing fingers at Rasode for having a "lackadaisical" approach to crime and safety over her tenure on council.
McCallum said in 2012, Rasode trumpeted a new clause in the RCMP contract that "allows the city to have information and meetings to do an analysis to make sure we’re also getting value."
He questioned why an analysis hasn’t been undertaken until now, and why no action has been taken.
"City council told citizens that there would be a higher level of scrutiny over the policing services provided by the Surrey RCMP, yet the figures released today (Thursday) tell a far different story," McCallum said. "If the residents of Surrey cannot rely on the elected officials to ensure accountability, then there is a serious problem with leadership when it comes to ensuring the safety and security of Surrey’s streets."
In response, Rasode said for anyone paying attention, her history on public advocacy has been clear from the start.
"My asking the tough questions and fighting for transparency and open police committee meetings actually resulted in me being removed as chair of the police committee," she said, adding that she left Surrey First partly because of this issue. "That was a very difficult decision. The fundamental reason I left a party (like Surrey First, is) they would not entertain or have discussions around tough issues like public safety."
McCallum also dug into mayoral opponent and current Coun. Linda Hepner for remaining silent about the statistics.
Asked Thursday what she thought of McCallum’s information requests, mayoral opponent and current councillor Linda Hepner said, "I expect his motive is clear and he’ll try to utilize that data to fear monger in the community."
Rasode is calling for a new "community policing team" made up of 200 personnel.
It’s a two-tiered model used in Langford, she noted, that utilizes community policing and bylaws.
Rasode’s plan would include 120 community safety officers to patrol the city’s town centres. They would be trained by the city and RCMP and would conduct foot and bike patrols. She’d also like to see bylaw officers be given a new role and new powers as community peace officers as well as 38 school liaison officers – two at each of the city’s 19 high schools – to assist and mentor teens.
"We have an income of $788 million (at the city), why can’t we spend $8 million on this?" wondered Rasode, who plans to bring the idea forward at the next police committee meeting.
CRIME IS NO. 1 ISSUE AMONG SURREY RESIDENTS, POLL SAYS And as the Surrey RCMP are set to get 30 new officers this year, bringing the total number of officers up to 703, the city still won’t hit the target laid out in its Crime Reduction Strategy, which calls for one police officer for every 700 residents or better.
With a projected population of roughly 510,000 in 2014, a total of 703 officers would mean one officer for every 725 people: the city would need another 25 new officers to hit the target.
Comparatively, Vancouver currently has over 200 police officers per 100,000 residents and Surrey has 137.
In an Insights West poll released March 7, it was found that 51 per cent of residents see crime as the number-one issue. This came on the heels of Surrey setting a new murder record in 2013. The city recorded 25 homicides last year, while the previous record of 21 was set in 2005.
Then in late July, crime again came in as the top concern at 45 per cent in another Insights West survey.
Mario Canseco, VP of public affairs at Insights West, noted it’s rare for a municipal issue to be at more than 40 per cent and said he believes "whoever connects better on crime is going to be the winner" in the upcoming election.