B.C. RCMP budget cuts ‘unacceptable,’ says acting Surrey mayor Hepner

SURREY — There has been a flurry of reaction following news Wednesday that the B.C. RCMP is facing $4.2 million in provincial funding cuts for the coming year.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens said the B.C. force has already cut down on travel, administrative and training costs in recent years, and the only area in which to find savings is policing services.

Callens said he’s being forced to cut $2.8 million from the budget for the anti-gang Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), eliminating 12 positions. The Major Crimes program, which handles murders and missing persons cases, will see $1.4 million in cuts including the reduction of 13 full-time investigators.

The BC NDP called the cuts “reckless,” saying in a release the cuts will “hinder law enforcement in their efforts to crack down on motorcycle gangs and other criminal gangs and leave more murders and missing persons cases unsolved.”

Coun. Linda Hepner, who is currently acting mayor, told the Now she was “astonished at the provincial cuts,” seeing as she and Surrey RCMP’s Officer in Charge (OIC) had no notice they were coming.

Hepner, who is running for mayor in the upcoming election, met with RCMP officials Wednesday after hearing of the cuts.

“What I wanted to find out was how that was going to impact our number one priority, which is public safety. When we’ve been going up in the last three years from $105 million annually to $123 million annually and I then see that someone else is going down, that really gives me great concern,” she said of the budget cuts. “So I wanted to know, and the OIC will be determining, how that may affect us.”

Hepner said she plans to work with the OIC, and other mayors and councils.

She said the city “cannot continue to accept downloading.”

“If that’s what it translates into, that would be unacceptable. We have to draw line.”

Hepner she will be “strongly, definitely, purposefully, quickly” lobbying the province to reverse its decision.

“We didn’t have any prior knowledge that this was going to happen. And I think therein lies a significant element of concern. We need to know what their intentions are and to be able to advocate for those before they happen, not after they happen. We’re partners in this and we need to build that partnership to be able to have those conversations early and to be able to affect the decision, not respond to the action.”

Surrey RCMP Sgt. Dale Carr said the provincial cuts don’t have a direct effect to any of the city’s police because of the municipal contract the detachment has with the city.

“Sort of, on the upside, if there is an upside to when things get cut, is if there are positions that are eliminated through these provincial cuts, we stand, as do other detachments, to gain some of that experience.”

The detachment may look at recruiting some of those who lose their jobs to “bring that experience to Surrey.”

“It’s not a given, but we stand to gain some of the experience,” Carr said.

When asked about indirect impacts to the department, Carr said he didn’t expect the cuts to bring more trouble to the city, but noted “we will now have more of a role to play.” Carr said Surrey has its own gang task force, and the team may have to look at expanding its scope of work.

“We will have to be focused in areas we haven’t had to have been because CFSEU was involved. Certainly, we’re alive to that. It’s not going to happen overnight….There’ll be a lot of liaising and we’ll absolutely ensure that the ball isn’t dropped in areas of concern,” he said. That could include redeployment of resources, Carr said, emphasizing that shuffling of resources is common within the department.

SFU criminologist Dr. Rob Gordon described the cuts as “fairly substantial.”

According to Gordon, it’s important to note that the municipal and federal arms of policing will operate normally, which both have their role to play in gang policing.

But Gordon said the downside to the cuts is obvious and it would be “foolish” to assume organized crime groups in the province are retiring.

“They’re not. They’re still very busy and nothing much will change until social policy changes around drugs,” he said.

Gordon noted the police have been successful in “keeping a lid” on organized crime activity in the province.

“And they’ve done that by pursuing targets and gathering information. Obviously these organizations are still working, and what they do is largely driven by the illegal drug trade,” he said. “(The police) have had some successes but it would be foolish to assume that those successes justify cutting back on police operations in this area. They have to maintain the pressure in order for organized crime to be disrupted. The minute they take their foot off the gas, given there’s no change in the illegal drug trade, we could well see an increase in activity in that area.”

Seeing as Surrey has had its fair share of gang-related crime, some have expressed concern that this decision could increase such activity.

Though Gordon said it could, he doesn’t expect it to be immediate.

He said that a potential increase in gang-related activity would largely depend on “whether the municipalities are able to pick up the slack.”

Some of the provincial pressure could fall to Surrey’s cops, and those in other municipalities, if the province downloads investigations.

Gordon thinks politicians should be lobbying the province to reverse the decision, but first, should find out why it’s been done, noting that has yet to be revealed. He added that while Surrey is not in crisis mode, the city is facing a number of challenges around crime and justice issues.

“There seems to have been a great deal of chatter in Surrey about how to deal with homicides and these sort of things,” he said, referring to the mayor’s gang task force, and recent calls for more police on the streets.  

“But nothing much appears have happened,” he noted. “That doesn’t surprise me, quite frankly, especially in a municipal election year which is usually characterized by posturing more than anything else.”

areid@thenownewspaper.com

-With files from the Vancouver Sun