Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum says he and the majority of council are “comfortable that the RCMP will continue to keep Surrey safe,” despite approving a budget that will not hire any new officers in 2019.
Surrey council formally adopted the controversial budget during a special meeting on Wednesday (Dec. 19), with Councillors Steven Pettigrew, Brenda Locke, Jack Hundial and Linda Annis opposed to both the capital and operating budgets (in 5-4 votes).
In addition to a freeze in hiring officers next year, the budget also means the delay of several civic amenities in an effort to reduce debt accrual.
Hundial, a former RCMP officer, said earlier this week that “public safety is at risk” with no new Mounties being added to the Surrey RCMP next year.
But McCallum said Wednesday that he and the majority of council believe public safety isn’t at risk.
“I think the Officer in Charge in Surrey, which I’ve met with over the last 10 days a couple times, has indicated to us that he will continue to be sure that our city is very, very safe with what council decided to not hire any new officers for next year,” McCallum told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting.
“Under the contract the RCMP has with the city, if we were to have, or hire, more officers in this city they have up to a year to bring them into Surrey and in past experience it usually has taken them up to a year, anyways, to bring in new officers,” he added. “By that time, which is a year from now, we’ll be well into our transition period.”
McCallum said the “reason that we’re changing police forces is more on a governance model.”
“The police have worked very well for Surrey for many years in Surrey, 50 years or so, but the governance has broken down and that’s what breaks down in big cities in policing,” McCallum elaborated. “People in Surrey want to be able to have a police board that’s made up of citizens of Surrey, so we want our management of our police to rest in Surrey, not Ottawa.”
But last week, Surrey’s top cop Dwayne McDonald told the Now-Leader that while he feels “confident the city is safe,” he added Surrey “could be safer” with increased resources. This year, 12 officers were hired which brought the force to 843 members.
“I think that we could be safer in the sense that an increase in resources will allow us to expand many of our successful programs, certainly in the areas of proactive policing and also with our gang enforcement team and just in general duty patrol and traffic where we see all of our significant concerns,” McDonald said. The Officer in Charge has also said the “Surrey RCMP could use a significant increase in police and supporting resources in order to keep pace with the city’s growth and to meet legitimate public expectations.”
After the Dec. 19 meeting, McCallum said council had just approved an “excellent” budget.
The mayor denied the suggestion there was a fracture in his Safe Surrey Coalition, given the split vote on the budget.
“When we put the team together, we wanted to make sure they were independent and independent thinkers. And I think it’s always important in the public to have differences of opinion as we move forward in the city.”
He added: “I am really pleased. I’m really excited right now that we’ve passed this budget and it has every one of our commitments,” he told reporters. “This budget contains all the commitments we said if we were elected we would do in the City of Surrey.”
But, what about the community opposition, particularly from Cloverdale’s hockey community regarding the delay of the ice rink?
“We look at this budget for all the people of Surrey, not just Cloverdale,” the mayor replied. “There’s other, four or five, ice hockey associations. Some bigger than Cloverdale. We haven’t received any opposition from them in the budget. We have other parts of our city we have to look at. For instance, East Clayton, we’re building a community centre up there. Look at City Centre here, we’re going ahead with a very major community centre with the YMCA right here in our City Centre. Bridgeview, we’re opening next year, three ice rinks. We as a council need to look at all of Surrey.”
The Cloverdale Sport & Ice Complex, a community centre and library in Grandview Heights, as well as the acquisition of land for a performing arts centre in City Centre, are to be delayed. A long list of other projects are also postponed, including expansion of the Fleetwood Community Centre & Library; relocation of the RCMP’s district office; “enhancement” of cell block and RCMP exhibit space; plans to create a “Glades Park; an Indigenous gathering space; and expansion to Newton Library. Phase two of “10660 City Parkway” and a “Cultural Corridor” is also postponed. Three projects are proceeding, but with general operating funding, and they include Nicomekl Riverfront Park, Strawberry Hill Hall, Nicholson Park and bleachers for Tamanawis Park.
The budget also means a tax increase of roughly $128.21 for the average single-family home in Surrey next year.