EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third part in a series leading up to Surrey’s Oct. 20 election. Click to read part one and part two. Are there questions about the Surrey election you want answered? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Surrey was on a roll in the 1950s. The push for infrastructure and a growing population meant an increased need for services here.
And so, on May 1, 1951, as a result of a plebiscite, the RCMP replaced the Surrey Police Force and the municipality entered into a cost-sharing agreement with the feds.
It’s ironic. Today, with Surrey’s population being vastly larger than it was back then, a movement is a afoot to reverse that 67-year-old decision.
The RCMP has drawn some heat in recent years for the senseless gun violence, fueled by the illegal drug trade, on Surrey’s streets. As the Oct. 20 civic election nears, the fate of the force’s contract with the city has become a major issue.
The contract was most recently renewed for 20 years in the spring of 2012 and is set to expire on March 31, 2032, but carries within it a clause that the city can opt out with two years’ notice. At the time of signing, the Surrey RCMP was, and continues to be, Canada’s largest RCMP detachment.
In 2012, it had 661 Mounties patrolling the streets and roughly 250 support staff, with an annual cost to the city of $101 million. Today, there are 835 officers and according to Coun. Tom Gill, who chaired the city’s finance committee and is the Surrey First slate’s mayoral candidate, the city now spends just under $160 million annually – about one-third of the city’s operating budget – on policing.
While Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, officer in charge of the Surrey RCMP, reports to the mayor on “matters relating to the implementation of objectives, priorities and goals of the detachment,” as the RCMP’s website states, some politicians and candidates want Surrey to have more say – and Ottawa to have less.
McCALLUM WANTS A NEW FORCE
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, the mayoral candidate for the Safe Surrey Coalition, appears to be leading the charge for a separation and says that if elected he will “immediately start the process for creating a new Surrey police department.”
He tells the Now-Leader it’s “very encouraging” that Bill Blair, federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, recently said he won’t stand in Surrey’s way if it decides to part ways with the RCMP.
“The decision on how Surrey should be policed is a decision for Surrey, and I would respect their ability to make that decision and leave that decision with them and we will very much respect that decision and we’d do everything we can to support that decision,” Blair said at a panel discussion at Surrey’s Grand Taj banquet hall.
Said McCallum, “We believe very strongly that the federal government, if the people of Surrey vote for us to get in on October 20th, that they would be willing to accept that and proceed immediately to work with us so that we could get our own police force. They would let us out of the contract immediately.”
McCallum, who was Surrey’s mayor from 1996 to 2005, is not satisfied with the RCMP’s service on several counts.
“I think they having a hard time addressing all the gun violence that’s going on,” he says. “They don’t seem to be able to address these things. I live in South Surrey, near Crescent Beach, and you know I never see the RCMP, to be honest. We really need to get a police force that is in our communities, live in our communities and stay.”
McCallum says RCMP officers will come here for two or three years, and then get transferred out.
“They don’t make any connection with our community, which is a really serious problem.”
Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko says “that’s not correct.”
She says 38 per cent of Surrey RCMP officers live in the city and 86 per cent live either in Surrey or in neighbouring municipalities.
Sturko adds the average time an officer remains in Surrey is seven or eight years.
As far as transferring goes, she says, “It’s up to you if you want to go.”
Sturko says that sometimes Mounties transferring out of Surrey will return with skills acquired elsewhere.
“We have a lot of returning members too.”
The former mayor is also not happy with Ottawa pulling the strings.
“The management of the Surrey RCMP reports directly to and takes direction from Ottawa,” McCallum says. “I saw that, many examples, when I was mayor. The people in Ottawa don’t know what the real problems are in Surrey and on top of all that, the type of gun violence and drive-by shootings and everything, the police have got to be really quick on those types of things, they’ve got to get into those neighbourhoods and try to get them safe again, and by the time Ottawa deals with it and gives directions and so-forth, it just doesn’t work.”
Under the contract, Surrey pays 90 per cent of the RCMP’s costs, and the federal government pays 10 per cent. If Surrey were to form its own police force, it would pay the full tab. How would McCallum achieve that?
“We’ll find the money in other departments that we’ll cut back in,” he explains.
“First of all, the city owns all the equipment, all the cars, all the community policing stations. The city also has its own staff, always has, CUPE staff that does all the administration for the RCMP. So the only thing we’re looking at is the officers’ salaries.”
GILL WANTS REFERENDUM
Gill, his rival for the mayor’s seat, says that for a full transition from the RCMP to a new Surrey police force, the city is probably looking at no less than four to five years.
“Do I believe we’ve outgrown the RCMP? I truly believe that we have, but I also want to be very practical from a business perspective,” Gill tells the Now-Leader. “I need to understand those transition costs, I’m not going to jump and be irrational if there’s going to be a significant implication to our residents in terms of taxes and costs.”
He says it’s “really important” that city officials have a discussion with the community and understand what the transition costs would look like. Gill notes the city spends just under $160 million annually, about one-third of the city’s operating budget, on policing.
The RCMP has more than 200 municipal contracts across Canada, with 60 in B.C., and it also polices 2,700 kilometres of coastline.
That said, Surrey isn’t the only city looking at pulling out. The City of Richmond recently conducted an analysis of what it would cost to transition from the RCMP and form its own police force and arrived at $20 million. Surrey’s transition would cost much more, Gill says.
“I think we’re looking at, probably just the costs associated to setting up our administration, I think that we’re probably looking at somewhere in the neighbourhood of $30 million to $50 million making that transition. There’s no question it’s probably in that range.”
Gill is calling for a similar analysis to be completed in Surrey within 12 months.
“We also need to understand that there’s going to be costs associated to infrastructure, administration, we’d need to make sure we have a human resources department to hire 835 existing members, we need to make sure we have a firing range, we need to make sure that we have the equipment and the training, administration background there set up to make sure that they then would be able to provide the service to the members, whatever that other infrastructure looks like and whatever that training looks like, I think those are significant components that people are not having a discussion on.
“I think we need to make some big decisions and I think that just given the overall exposure to the financial implications of this decision, I think it’s the community’s decision,” Gill says.
“I’ve been very clear that I want them to get this analysis done within 12 months, I want the community to come out and I want there to be a referendum.”
Number crunching aside, Gill shares McCallum’s concern in terms of oversight.
“The community is screaming for a higher quality of service and I think that’s something that is on the table, regardless of it being the RCMP or a municipal force, I think that our residents are screaming for a higher quality of service, a higher quality of customer service,” he said.
“Regardless of what happens in our municipal policing agreement, you know the direction comes from Ottawa. I’m not OK with that. I want to see a police board in our city; I want to see our police board directing those resources and ensuring that they’re going where they need to go. This is not to suggest that the RCMP is not doing it properly, this is to suggest that getting direction from Ottawa is not OK.
“For me, there’s no question: We need to take control of the police board in Surrey.”
HAYNE WANTS MORE INFORMATION
Councillor Bruce Hayne, who is running for mayor under the Surrey Integrity Now slate’s banner, suspects Gill’s cost estimates for Surrey’s transition to its own force are “way south” considering Richmond has 204 Mounties compared to Surrey’s 835.
“I imagine our numbers would be around four times as much as Richmond, so I’m not sure where Coun. Gill is getting those numbers,” Hayne says. “So I’m thinking it’s got to be somewhere between $80 million and $120 million to do something like that, in transitional costs. Just a straight-up apple-to-apple comparison we’d have a 10 per cent bump in annual operations.”
Hayne says he thinks Surrey is getting “good value” from the RCMP right now and “added value” from institutions such as E-Division’s headquarters in Green Timbers.
“I’m not convinced that just moving to a municipal model is going to get rid of our guns and gangs issue. Our guns and gangs issue will continue to be there if we don’t do something more dramatic about kids getting into gangs, the demand side of the supply-demand issue of the street drugs, and the demand is there so people are willing to take tremendous risk and put people in harm’s way to supply that demand and so on.
“It’s a very complex issue and one we can’t just solve by going, ‘I’m going to get rid of the RCMP the day that I’m elected,’” Hayne says. “That kind of overly simplistic answer doesn’t do service to the community. The people of Surrey deserve more thoughtful answers. They deserve better answers than just ‘I’m going to get rid of the RCMP.
“You only have to look at Abbotsford for a moment – they’ve had more gang-related homicides this year than Surrey has, they’re a smaller municipality and they have a municipal force. So just having a municipal force does not necessarily mean that we’re going to have better policing outcomes.”
While McCallum says if he gets elected he’ll start that transition ball rolling immediately, and Gill said it would take four or five years, Hayne figures it’d require more time.
“We’re talking upwards of seven years, even if we started right now, that it would take to fully transition to a municipal force,” Hayne says. “I would suggest the people of Surrey are looking for much more immediate answers to our gang-related issues and so-on than several years down the road.”
Hayne says while he’s “leaning” toward maintaining the RCMP in the medium- to long-term, he thinks Surrey needs a “new relationship” with the RCMP.
“What I mean by that is not operational control because no elected official should have operational control of any police force, that’s just wrong,” he points out. Having a police board rather than a public safety committee chaired by the mayor, he argues, is a “much better governance model.”
If Surrey were to make a move away from the RCMP, Hayne says, the province would have a lot to say about it. It’s his understanding “they don’t want yet one more independent police force in the Lower Mainland” and would likely step in and want Metro Vancouver to move to a single police force.
Hayne says that as a mayoral candidate, he wants to weigh all options, and take a measured approach.
“I don’t think we should be making knee-jerk, reactive decisions because we have a bump in gun violence this year. In fact if we look at our violent crime, at our total crime rate, we look at our violent crime, our homicide rate, it is declining year over year over year and it has been for some time.”
He agrees with Gill and McCallum that police officers should be less transient in Surrey.
“One of the I guess benefits that people cite to a municipal police force is that a member lives in the community, works their entire career in the community and gets to know the community very, very well and the flip side to that coin is the RCMP moves people in and out of communities and moves them around and so-on.”
Finally, Hayne says “one of the things that isn’t being talked about” is that the RCMP “very purposefully” moved its E-division headquarters to Surrey.
“There’s 2,000 men and women that work in that building every day,” Hayne notes.
“Now they’re not cops on the beat, but they are crime analysts, there are all sorts of tactical units, an awful lot of support there. Not only are 2,000 people employed in our community, in addition to the 840 members that we have in our force, but those are 2,000 sets of eyes and ears that are in our community, many of them living here, who just provide that extra level of safety and security in our community.”
How would this marry with a city police force?
“Those are very pragmatic questions that would have to be part of that report and be part of those answers,” Hayne says.