Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth made good on his promise late Tuesday afternoon to release to the public the 455-page report – thick as a Victorian novel – of the Provincial Municipality Policing Transition Study Committee, minus more than just a few words.
“First off, we wanted as much information as possible and I said we would do that,” Farnworth told the Now-Leader on Wednesday. “The second is for people to understand that this report is very comprehensive, that there has been a lot of work gone into it and it’s looked at every aspect of what a proper transition would look like and that people can have confidence that public safety is always the first priority.”
The release of this report, which deals with Surrey’s transition from the RCMP to its own police force, came with a notice that it has been redacted for “privacy, security and operational decisions.”
Examples of such can be found in the executive summary: “New recruits would compose no more than –left blank– when the Department is fully operational in one year and the model projects that these recruits would be progressively integrated into the Department in – left blank –,” and, “The phased Integrated Transition Model envisions recruitment of – left blank – recruits without previous policing experience. This will enable the Department to come to fully funded strength by a projected timeline of – left blank –.”
The report can be seen online at surreynowleader.com.
Asked if he’s read the full report, Farnworth replied, “I have read the report; there is a very comprehensive executive summary and then gone through different component chapters. I go through it again when I’ve got questions on it, I read it, and that’s why it’s out there. It is as comprehensive, I think, as it can be.”
Asked about the redaction, Farnworth said a “standard way of releasing this would have been to say, ‘OK, you can go through FOI,’ but my desire was as much of this that can be released should be released, and the only stuff that’s been redacted relates to the privacy and operational security issues.”
Surrey Councillor Laurie Guerra, of the Safe Surrey Coalition, told the Now-Leader she’s “very excited” about the report being released.
“I’m very, very happy that it’s out there,” she said, “and, you know, we can put the rest behind us and on we go. It’s time. We campaigned on it, we were elected on it, we all voted in favour of it, and here we are, and it hasn’t been that long. I’m thrilled that’s it’s come so fast. It’s a good day, I think, for the city of Surrey.”
Still, this report’s release, as could be expected given public acrimony over the issue, was swiftly followed by criticism.
Councillor Linda Annis charges that the study “does nothing” to reduce “doubts and questions” Surrey residents have about the whole idea of moving on from the Surrey RCMP, which has policed Surrey since 1951.
“The idea that we’re going to have a more expensive police force, with fewer officers than we have today makes no sense, and the total lack of transparency and accountability is staggering,” Annis said.
“The residents of Surrey have been ignored every step of the way, and frankly the report does nothing to inspire confidence going forward. Policing is the single biggest item in our city budget, so our taxpayers should have the final say on whether we move to a Surrey Police Department or not.”
Annis noted the transition cost already stands at a “staggering” $129 million, “with more costs to come, and the city will have fewer officers than it has today.
“Every available dollar in the city is being spent to give the mayor his police department, meanwhile we’re not funding new officers, firefighters, or parks, rinks and rec centres,” Annis said.
Paul Daynes, a strategist for the Keep the RCMP in Surrey Campaign, was still digesting the report’s contents at press time.
“This was a secretive process,” he told the Now-Leader. “There was no public input or oversight whatsoever from any community group or representative of any community group in Surrey.
“Meetings were held in Vancouver – we are told that experts, consultants, analyzed it and approved it, but it’s just sort of a very elitist approach to ‘We know better, we know what’s best for you guys.’ The most glaring deficiency for me is something that within our group a number of people have pointed out, there was no input or oversight by the RCMP, which is an extraordinary omission given that they’ve been here since 1951.”
“I’m highly suspicious and distrustful of the whole process, and I think most people in Surrey will be,” Daynes said.
Councillor Jack Hundial, a former Surrey RCMP officer, said the 455-page report released Tuesday contains “only about 150 pages of new information” and “a lot” of assumptions.
“It doesn’t clarify why this model is going to be better,” he said. Hundial also expressed concern about the extent of redaction.
“It does have some concerns because all along one of the questions everyone’s been asking is, ‘What is it going to cost, and what am I actually getting for that cost?’ And those questions still seem unanswered, and to now say that it’s going to be the responsibility of the police board, when it’s up and running, sort of further leaves an uncertainty with people.”