How do you make Terry Waterhouse chuckle?
Suggest to him his task of setting up a new police force in Surrey to replace Canada’s largest RCMP detachment is akin to that of an auto mechanic working on a car while it’s being driven down a highway.
Waterhouse, who has served as Surrey’s General Manager of Public Safety, was recently appointed General Manager, Policing Transition, by Mayor Doug McCallum and the new city council.
At council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, it served notice to the provincial and federal governments that Surrey is ending its contract with the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up its own force.
“Yeah, definitely it’s an ambitious project and we are aware that a police-in-transition of this size has not happened before in Canada, and so yes we know it’s ambitious but we’re confident that it can happen in the time stipulated,” Waterhouse said.
“We’re looking at a lot of cities’ current policing models to ensure that we build an evidence-based, best-practice policing, big city policing model.”
What processes is he going through? Waterhouse says a “number of things” have to happen concurrently. “One of the important first steps along with building what we want the policing model to look like for Surrey is definitely to work with the province to ensure their needs for policing and our needs to provide a policing service are aligned.”
McCallum said Friday he expects the city will “put a plan to the provincial government probably within four to six months.”
Terry Waterhouse, Surrey’s general manager in charge of policing transition. (File photo)
Is Waterhouse expecting most of Surrey’s Mounties to cross over, into the new police force?
“There will have to be a recruiting and an optional transition process put in place. The exact number of members who would want to do that hasn’t yet been determined,” Waterhouse told the Now-Leader. “But we anticipate significant interest in that.”
The Surrey RCMP’s strength is currently 835 officers. How many police officers will the new city police force have?
“The exact number we’ll determine based on the model,” Waterhouse said.
“We know it will be at least the size of the current police allotment in Surrey. I don’t think it would be less but again those numbers have to be determined.”
Has an inventory check been done on policing equipment and property the city owns in Surrey?
“A capital and equipment inventory will have to be done,” Waterhouse said.
“We know currently what we have and what will be needed in the future will all be part of the plan. In terms of the actual equipment itself, we’ll negotiate exactly what that looks like but the city, from a capital perspective, owns the buildings and from an operational perspective we purchase on behalf of the police that equipment, so a fair amount of that equipment has been purchased and is owned by the city.”
And what of human resources-related costs?
“All of those kinds of financial issues still have to be worked out but not anticipating severance will be one. That’s from an RCMP perspective an employment issue that they will deal with their employees.”
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— Dianne Watts (@DianneWatts4BC) November 22, 2018
Prior to the Oct. 20th civic election, McCallum told the Now-Leader that “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.”
Under the city’s contract with the RCMP, 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.
“We would re-adjust our budget to cover that,” McCallum said at the time.
So, Surrey will have a new police force on Nov. 5th, 2020?
That’s when two years will have passed since the city gave notice to separate from the RCMP.
“I think that’s the goal,” Waterhouse said.
“The goal is a two-year window for this operationalization of the Surrey police department. It hasn’t been officially named,” he added.
Just to be sure – the transition will be completed within two years from now?
“The two years is what is envisioned in the contract in the legislation for the opt-out provision and so the mayor and council have endorsed the plan to basically move forward on that timeline,” Waterhouse re-confirmed.
“Yeah, with the two years to stand up an independent municipal service, essentially.”
But don’t bet on that, a Simon Fraser University criminology professor says.
Rob Gordon says that while the two years is the required provision of the contract for service with the RCMP, most of the people who are “involved in these kinds of activities” are going to be the first to say it will take much longer than that.
“It’s quite a complicated process and it still has a number of hurdles to go over,” Gordon said.
“I’m not sure where the province is on this at the moment. The last I heard they were calling for a coherent plan and that could be a delay factor. Bear in mind that policing in B.C. is the responsibility of the provincial government. So they have to approve it, they’re the people who administer the Police Act. Municipalities can ask for changes to take place but it’s ultimately up to the province and up to the police services branch to make that decision, subject to other considerations. It’s basically at Mike Farnworth’s doorstep and it’s not what the mayor of Surrey says or wants or does.”
Rob Gordon, SFU criminology professor. (Submitted photo)
Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, recently told the Now-Leader that Premier John Horgan and the NDP government is working with Surrey as the city develops its plan to create its own police force.
“Let’s be clear. No one is putting up any roadblocks,” Farnworth said. “We are prepared to work with the mayor – he has to be willing to work, too.
“We want to make sure there is a solid plan in place to ensure the people of Surrey have strong policing they can be confident in.”
What’s the professor’s take on this?
“There you have the provincial government’s appropriate caution about making this shift,” Gordon remarked.
“They don’t want to say ‘No, Doug, take your toys and go somewhere else,’ because that’s going to have repercussions.
“He’ll push back against that, and the next thing you know there’s a scrap going on between McCallum and the NDP government and it’s going to create a certain amount of political turmoil in Surrey, so it won’t help or hinder the crime situation, the people will just sit back and laugh about it because it’s really quite silly,” Gordon elaborated.
“It’s frustrating when the provincial government, which is responsible for policing, won’t step up and say ‘Enough, stop now, you got yourself elected and what you’re doing is tinkering in a tinker’s paradise so just stop, let’s back away, chill out and take a look at what the real options are for policing in Metro Vancouver as a whole.’
“They won’t do that, because they don’t know how to do it,” Gordon said.
“I’ve talked to Farnworth many times about the issue of a Vancouver-wide police service. He seems to get it, but like most politicians they get cold feet when they’re actually in power. They’ll talk about the importance of having a regional policing service for the whole of metro when they’re not in positions of responsibility and then the minute they’ve got leverage and responsibility, they back off. Quite why, that is one of the great mysteries.”
Gordon says provincial politics are at play. The NDP picked up seats in the last provincial election in Surrey, he pointed out, “and they’ll want to hold on to those.”
“The issue then was bridge tolls and other related matters, rather than policing,” he said of B.C.’s May 19th, 2017 general election.
“So who knows where the electorate would be on this issue? However, I don’t think the NDP are in a position to want to press because of the fear of losing a seat or two. So really the whole thing, this whole event, is all about political expediency rather than police efficiency.
“If people really think that changing the uniforms of the police officers in Surrey is going to make a whit of difference with respect to crime then they’re fooling themselves – it won’t.”
Gordon maintains that what’s required is not so much a discharging of the RCMP as opposed to taking “a really solid look” at the need for a Metro Vancouver police service, one that cuts across RCMP detachments, and cuts across municipal police forces because crime is a regional problem and not something peculiar to Surrey.
“This whole parochial approach really doesn’t address the problems that Surrey has at this point,” he said.
Meantime, Gordon suggests Waterhouse has been given a task with possibly no hope of success.
“Terry Waterhouse has a long, difficult job ahead of him. Quite why he took this is beyond my understanding but it certainly is a challenge and I wish him well with it however much it may be a fool’s errand. So personalities aside I still think this is a mistake, that it actually won’t take two years it’ll take more, the whole term of the current council. It’s going to absorb all their time and a huge amount of Surrey taxpayers’ money. I just don’t think people have really been given the full picture here.
“Just on the transfer over, the basic nuts and bolts,” Gordon said, “when Richmond estimated the cost of a transfer – this was two, nearly three years ago – it was close to $20 million just to change things over, so Surrey is much larger than Richmond, a much larger detachment, and I think that they’re going to be facing at least twice that amount in transfer costs and they’ll lose the 10 per cent bonus, which is the federal payment.”
The city now spends just under $160 million annually on policing. That’s about one-third of its operating budget.
Safe Surrey Coalition Councillor Brenda Locke, like McCallum, is not a political neophyte. She served as Liberal MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers from 2001 to 2005, during McCallum’s third consecutive term as mayor.
She’s not so sure the transition can be done in two years.
“I’m not as comfortable with the timeline of two years as they are,” Locke said. “I have never said the two-year piece. I guess that’s something the mayor and Terry are talking about. You know, I just want to do it right. I think it’s more important that we do it right and fair and take everything into consideration.”
Surrey City Councillor Brenda Locke. (File photo)
Locke said she doesn’t think people should worry about a “timeclock” on this.
“I hope it can happen within our term, that’s certainly the goal, but there’s still a lot of considerations along the way.”
McCallum said following the Nov. 19th council meeting that it’s “set in stone” that his government won’t raise taxes beyond the Consumer Price Index.
So if the new police force ends up costing Surrey more than policing by the RCMP, how will the city make up the difference? Again, McCallum has said city hall “would re-adjust” its budget “to cover that.” But what that means exactly has yet to be revealed publicly.
“So we haven’t even got to the budgeting piece yet,” Locke told the Now-Leader. “We haven’t been there yet and the mayor may have different information. Certainly he does get different information than we get in council. He’ll see it before we do. So that would be a question for Doug.”
McCallum could not be reached for a reply to Locke’s comment.
Asked how many officers would be in the new Surrey police force, Locke replied, “I don’t have that information other than it’s a little too early in the process for us to know that. I know Terry has been looking at all those issues.”
As for Gordon’s comment that this is all about political expediency as opposed to policing efficiency, and that changing a police uniform won’t make a “whit” of difference in respect to crime in Surrey, Locke’s response was laconic.
“That’s his opinion,” she said. “That’s his opinion.”
“We will probably be getting a briefing from Terry soon but we haven’t had one to date,” Locke said Wednesday.
“I think as this moves forward and the public safety committee convenes and a bunch of those other things happen, we’ll have more that I can say to you but I don’t really have that much that I can share right now.”
– With files from Lauren Collins and Amy Reid