In the wake of another rash of shootings in Surrey – three in three days – several political hopefuls are weighing the effectiveness and suitability of the RCMP for a city as large as Surrey.
So far, it seems the status quo is not accepted by anyone in the running.
On Monday, one of the parties that intends to challenge Surrey First in October’s election said the RCMP “is simply not capable of doing all that needs to be done to police Surrey.”
If elected, the Proudly Surrey slate says it will do its level best to give Surrey RCMP the boot, with plans to issue “notice to the RCMP’s Ottawa office that we wish to terminate our policing contract and begin transition to a municipal or regional force.”
The party also proposed a regional police force by partnering with the Delta Police Department, in addition to a new “beat cop” program focused on a visible street presence; as well as an “aggressive” local recruitment policy in partnership with local institutions to “address the ongoing inability of the RCMP to fill all the funded positions in the Surrey police force.”
Proudly Surrey co-founder and council candidate Stuart Parker said the party moved up announcing its crime platform in light of the recent escalation of violence.
Recent shootings include OR nurse, hockey coach and father of two Paul Bennett being shot dead on Saturday afternoon; a report of shots fired at a vehicle in the 17600-block of Fraser Highway late Saturday night; and, at 11:25 p.m. Monday when police say a man was shot and a woman assaulted in a “targeted” incident in the 7700-block of 184th Street.
“We need a police force accountable solely to the people of Surrey, designed to meet the very specific needs and challenges of our residents,” said Parker in a release. “It is literally a matter of life and death.”
The RCMP has been policing Surrey since it replaced the Surrey Police Force in 1951. Under the current agreement, the federal government pays for 10 per cent of the RCMP’s costs with the city picking up the remaining 90 per cent.
Currently, Surrey RCMP have 835 Mounties, one officer per 652 residents. Fifty-eight of those officers, however, are seconded to integrated teams such as IHIT. That leaves 777 Surrey detachment officers, or one cop per 700 residents.
Surrey First’s mayoral candidate Tom Gill didn’t take as firm a stance against the RCMP, but did express doubt about its future in Surrey if changes couldn’t be made to the existing contract.
Gill said he is “favourable” to reassessing the need for a municipal force for Surrey, even suggesting the city could end up at a referendum about whether or not to pull the plug on the RCMP contract.
He suggested looking at a hybrid model that would involve some sort of police board, to institute more oversight into how Surrey RCMP operates, makes decisions and deploys officers.
“When you look at the municipal agreement we have, that agreement is the standard, stock agreement,” said Gill, noting Surrey is several years into a 20-year contract. “What I’m suggesting is we need to look at revising that document and making it customized to fit our community, given we’re a large urban centre.”
The current agreement permits the Officer in Charge to allocate resources as he or she sees fit.
“What I’m suggesting is when we’re wanting particular outcomes in certain areas, we want to be able to dictate that,” said Gill. “Everything I’m envisioning is something totally different than the city has done, and traditionally something the RCMP hasn’t done.”
And if the RCMP doesn’t play ball?
“I think RCMP is going to have some difficulty accepting some of these changes,” Gill mused, “but I certainly believe with us being the largest detachment and our ability to look at working with new municipal agreement, I believe we are well positioned.”
Gill said the city would also face “cost pressures of 20 per cent when (RCMP) unionize,” which would be a significant hit for Surrey, which spent $152.8 million on police services in 2017 (up from $148.4 million in 2016 and $133 million in 2015, and roughly $101 million in 2012).
Gill also said he wants more “score card” reporting done on Surrey’s crime rates.
“We have all these numbers that come in from the RCMP in terms of crime rates and stats, but none of it is filtered through what it should be, per capita. The zero outcome isn’t going to happen but there can be a goal. We need to benchmark it, and no one else has done this,” he said.
Gill noted Surrey invests a lot of money on policing, and “We, as a city are paying for a service no differently than you going to a grocery store to buy a particular product. We want to get what we pay for.”
Gill said he’s “optimistic” the current Officer in Charge, Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald would be “receptive” to this type of reporting.
“The culture from previous OICs has not been accommodating, and certainly when Dwayne came on board, he was very clear that working on outcome reporting would be something he would like to work with,” he noted.
Gill also called for reinstating a community policing pilot project, similar to one that was launched, then not renewed, in Surrey.
“My understanding is Ottawa was not receptive to continuing that program,” said Gill. “There has to be some change in terms of how the RCMP culture runs and how the RCMP conduct their business. They need to ensure they understand the client they serve. You go to a restaurant because you have expectations. They need to understand Surrey has expectations.”
Another new party that intends to challenge Surrey First is Surrey Community Alliance, led by Doug Elford.
“We would consider a municipal force,” Elford told the Now–Leader on Tuesday. “Of course, you’d have to get in and understand all the costs. But what Tom is proposing is interesting, because why haven’t they done this before? Now all of the sudden, it’s an issue?”
Elford, too, said more control and oversight of Surrey RCMP is crucial.
“We’ve been saying that,” he said. “We keep answering to Ottawa and we don’t seem to have that control over how we are policing the city. It’s not working. People are beginning to lose faith in the RCMP.”
Elford pointed to the Monday shooting, the third in Surrey in three days.
“Our position is, we would look at it, consider it,” he said of pulling out of the Surrey RCMP agreement, if his party was elected.
As for making modifications to the existing contract?
“I just can’t see (the RCMP) buying into that. They’re Ottawa driven,” Elford said. It’s ironic that Tom (Gill) is now changing spots, in a sense, now that there is a lot of public opinion that maybe we should be swinging that way. Funny how things work…. We’ve been calling for change for years.”
In the 2015 shootings, Elford called for more boots on the ground, and a shift to community policing.
Elford suggested criminals “don’t fear the RCMP anymore,” referencing daytime shootings in the city this year.
“The way the RCMP is, they’re designed for smaller towns,” he said. “The model needs to change or the system needs to change. It’s not effective enough. Boots on the ground doesn’t mean we need more officers, but get them more on the street, and visible, get them talking to people, let the criminals know we’re watching. It’s hard to find a cop in Surrey.”
Surrey RCMP is “top heavy,” Elford added.
But, he said, a deeper look into the financial ramifications of such a move would be required.
The third party stepping up to challenge Surrey First is People First Surrey.
The party’s Rajesh Jayaprakrash said “We need more studies to be done” before such a big decision is made with “no reliable data.”
“We are not for it or against it yet,” Jayaprakrash wrote in an email to the Now-Leader. “It is true that a city based model is reducing crime but it is coming at double the cost. Policing is the largest expense of Surrey at $150 million per year, of around $1 billion (in the) city budget. Moving to a city-owned police model might almost double it to $300 million per year.”
He added: “We need to have fiscal responsibility and cannot make random decisions about these big ticket items. Maybe some increase in resources to RCMP might help to improve the situation.” Jayaprakrash said his party does not want to “imply the blame of crime in Surrey to RCMP and demoralize our police force unnecessarily. But we also have the position that police need to be more accountable and fair in the way they treat regular people. We heard many complaints about this from common people.”
Jayaprakrash noted his party’s main crime-fighting proposal is to “use technology to solve some of these problems,” adding “we’ve established that in our website” at peoplefirstsurrey.ca.
He invited the public to attend an Indo-American Press Club-hosted panel discussion on crime at the Newton Library (13795 70th Ave.), from 2 to 4 p.m. on July 22, in the second of 10 planned open houses.
“We are participating and letting them use our facility. We are doing this to ensure neutrality of the panel discussion,” noted Jayaprakrash.
More than 100,000 people cast a ballot in Surrey in the 2014 election, up from 70,253 in 2011.
Out of 287,940 eligible Surrey voters, the city said 101,558 cast a ballot – a 35.3 per cent voter turnout.
Voters head to the polls on Oct. 20, 2018.
Files from Tom Zytaruk