A panel tackled the “hot topic dialogue” issue “RCMP or Municipal Police in Surrey?” at a Surrey Board of Trade forum on Tuesday. Safe Surrey Coalition council members did not attend. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

A panel tackled the “hot topic dialogue” issue “RCMP or Municipal Police in Surrey?” at a Surrey Board of Trade forum on Tuesday. Safe Surrey Coalition council members did not attend. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Safe Surrey Coalition council members a no-show at forum on city’s policing future

Council’s plan to replace RCMP city police force came under scrutiny at Surrey Board of Trade forum

None of the eight Safe Surrey Coalition city council members showed up to a packed event on public safety in Surrey this week.

City council’s plan to replace the RCMP with a city police force came under comprehensive scrutiny Tuesday at a Surrey Board of Trade “hot topic” breakfast forum dedicated to the issue. The event, entitled “RCMP or Municipal Police in Surrey?” was held at the Civic Hotel, a 30-second stroll from city hall.

Linda Annis, of Surrey First, was the sole city council member attending.

“There were other council members that were registered and they cancelled on Friday, and no reason was given,” Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman told the Now-Leader on Wednesday.

“I mean typically, we always have good attendance by government representatives, but with the new mayor and council, that hasn’t been the case.”

Surrey Liberal MLAs Stephanie Cadieux, Marvin Hunt and Tracy Redies were there, as was Liberal critic for public safety MLA Mike Morris, hailing from Prince George-Mackenzie.


Surrey resident Prem Vinning asks a question at a Surrey Board of Trade forum, “RCMP or Municipal Police in Surrey?” on Tuesday at the Civic Hotel. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Huberman said the Surrey council members who were registered, but cancelled Friday, were Doug Elford, Steven Pettigrew and Jack Hundial, a retired Surrey RCMP staff sergeant. Hundial said he would have attended but for the flu.

“I’m getting over a bit of the flu, actually,” Hundial told the Now-Leader on Wednesday. “I was going to attend.”

Councillor Laurie Guerra said she didn’t reply to the invite, “so there was no need for me to send regrets. I am very concerned about public safety but we as a council have voted in favour of a municipal police force and I don’t see the need nor do I have the desire to rehash old debates.”

Councillor Steven Pettigrew said he was unable to attend “as I needed the extra time to prepare for Wednesday’s council meeting.

“I am disappointed that I was unable to attend and I look forward to any future forums like this,” he said.

Surrey resident Bob Rolls, a retired Vancouver Police deputy chief constable, produced with retired RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German a 246-page review for Richmond city council examining a potential move from the RCMP to a city police force. In the end, Richmond opted to keep the RCMP.

He said Surrey’s situation has “a lot of the same drivers” Richmond did — concern with a lack of transparency, accountability, a lot of turnover, police not having deep roots in the community, and the RCMP “being governed from thousands of miles away.”

“A big one was financial control,” Rolls said. “There was a concern with decisions made in Ottawa that impacted the Richmond budget.”

“We had to build a transition model, and then cost it out,” he said. “On the base of cost alone, the decision in Richmond was not to go ahead.”


Bob Rolls, retired Vancouver Police Department deputy chief constable. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

“The one that I hear a lot of discussion about in Surrey, that did not come up in Richmond, is the whole one around public safety and gang violence, and this seems to be a main driver here,” Rolls noted.

While there’s never been a transition on the scale Surrey is undertaking, Rolls said, “it’s completely achievable. It’s all about having a very comprehensive and good plan, and it’s all about having the right resources dedicated to make that plan happen.”

Hiring 850 police officers in Surrey, he said, would be a “very large task” that “would have to be something to start very early on,” he said.

Rolls said there’s a lot of speculation that costs could “skyrocket” transitioning over to a city police force.

“I just want to say I completely disagree with that,” he said. “The reality is when you start a brand new police department you’ve got an opportunity to build a police department based on the best and most efficient practices available.”

Rolls also said the Surrey RCMP has a “grossly inefficient shifting model” in comparison to the VPD, which ties the shifts to call loads. “In Surrey you’ve got 12-hour shifts where you’ve essentially got the same amount of members working on a Sunday morning that you’ve got on a Friday night,” he said. “That’s just one of the opportunities where you can have a more efficient police force.”

Kash Heed, former B.C. Liberal minister of public safety, solicitor general and retired chief constable of the West Vancouver Police, said it’s important for the public to “get a full explanation” of costs.

“Where there’s a will, there’s certainly a way to transition and reform policing not only in Surrey but elsewhere in the Lower Mainland,” he said, but stressed the provincial government will ultimately have the final say.

“At the end of the day if we’re going to make any changes here in Surrey, the government has to approve that, the solicitor general, cabinet, they have to make that decision,” he said. “So the best plan that you can put forward, which would deal with all of the issues, could be thwarted by the provincial government, so you be very, very wary of that.”


Kash Heed, former B.C. minister of public safety and solicitor general, and retired chief constable of the West Vancouver Police Department. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

“At the end of the day, unfortunately, like many things right now, decisions are made for political reasons, not the right reasons,” Heed said.

“This is great of the Surrey Board of Trade to bring this forum together, we need several more of these so the community really understands what they are getting into.”

Heed said some of the comments he’s heard from NDP Solicitor General Mike Farnworth “are not encouraging for any transition of a police service here in Surrey, but that remains to be seen at the end of the day.”

Heed noted it took him, as police chief in West Vancouver, two months to start a bar watch program, and that Delta Police launched theirs in less time than that.

“We brought that proposal to the RCMP 12 years ago,” Heed said. “You know what? It took 12 years before you brought one in here in Surrey.”

“So that’s one area I think is probably the most profound example of how long it took to bring in a particularly effective program.”

READ ALSO: Months to wait before gangsters bounced out of Surrey bars

Mike Larsen, chairman of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s criminology department, also serves as president of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

“I think you can’t have a transparent and accountable police organization in a city the size of Surrey unless the process through which you design and bring it to fruition is also transparent and accountable and I think that there’s been some serious deficiencies in that regard,” Larsen said. “I want to see a lot of people at the table, and I want to see a plan.”

“I’m well aware that there is design work going on behind the scenes in terms of what a police force for Surrey would look like but I think that there’s a lot we could do to make that more public.”


Mike Larsen, chairman of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s criminology department. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

“The connection between what we’re designing and what we’re trying to achieve hasn’t really been clearly specified to my satifaction,” Larsen said. “I think if we were looking to build something like a bridge across the Fraser we would require a more clear and thorough costing explanation, accounting of exactly what our results are supposed to be, than what we’ve seen for a police department so, again, there’s much more room for transparency.”

READ ALSO: Policing in Surrey – what exactly is the plan?

Fraser MacRae, a retired RCMP assistant commissioner who served as Surrey RCMP’s officer in charge from 2004 to 2012, was the city’s top cop during McCallum’s last term as mayor before McCallum was defeated at the polls in 2005.

MacRae served up a scathing critique of Surrey’s plan to transition from the RCMP, on several fronts.

He prefaced his remarks by saying there’s “no question” that a city police department “would serve the city of Surrey and it’s citizens very well. This shouldn’t be, nor is it, about us versus them.”

“There are no simple solutions such as ‘Just do this,’ or ‘We should ban handguns in the City of Surrey,’ or ‘We should change our police force,’” MacRae said. “These simplistic solutions and inclination to focus on the shiny object does not result in sound public policy or effective strategy.”

MacRae said the Surrey RCMP has been “chronically under-resourced for decades.”

“Anytime you feel the need to add 50 extra resources, 35 extra resources, 100 extra resources, it’s pretty clear that the community is playing catch-up.”

MacRae said, contrary to McCallum’s claim, that the Surrey RCMP detachment does not take its direction on operational policing from Ottawa.

“The strategic and operational plans are made in Surrey, in consultation with the community and with the municipal government. I know this, because I lived it for eight years. The City of Surrey can have a police board for the RCMP if it so chooses,” he said.

“How long will this transition take? It’s been proclaimed that it will take two years to do this. It’s impossible to predict how long a transition to increase service will take given there’s absolutely no data or information other than guesstimate as to how many police officers currently serving at the Surrey detachment will remain at the detachment if it went to a new police service,” MacRae said.

“For the sake of discussion, I will say it’s 400 — half the members stay, half the members go,” MacRae posited. “That means the city will have to acquire and recruit 400 police officers of varying degrees of service, skill and expertise from other jurisdictions. This will take time to acquire and process, will impact the Justice Institute of B.C., and will impact the efficiencies of police operations. Think how this plays out if the number turns out to be only 200 stay. To acquire 600 police officers is not possible over a two-year period, perhaps even over several years.”

MacRae said he suspects the provincial government would “not be inclined to sign off on any Surrey plan that puts other jurisdictions at risk or puts inordinate stress on the infrastructure of policing in the province.”

Surrey’s Director of Public Safety Strategies Terry Waterhouse, who McCallum has tasked with overseeing the transition, was not among Tuesday’s forum speakers.

“The current local government is not able to comment on the transition to a municipal police force, was what was indicated when I issued the invitation,” Huberman explained. “We’re hoping that local government, Dr. Waterhouse and others hear the different messages, the different ideas, the different perspectives.”

Waterhouse has not responded to requests for comment.

Annis said the “big take-away piece” was that “we need to get more public engagement, we need to put the facts on the table so that people clearly understand what the transition will mean, whether it will mean improvement in service or what is it going to look like and I think that’s very unclear in most minds. I think that’s certainly a step one in terms of what we need to do — is do it a little bit more collaboratively with the public and be very open and transparent about it.”

Has it made Annis re-think her having voted along with the eight Safe Surrey Coalition council members to end the RCMP’s contract?

She said McCallum gave her “assurances that the transition would cost no more than 10 per cent of what we’re currently paying for policing in Surrey, and I’m not 100 per cent certain we can do that at that price and certainly provide the same or better service by going to a municipal police force and so I would like to see the policing plan or the transition plan before I make a decision as to whether or not I think it’s the right thing to do, or not.”

Asked if she thinks Waterhouse should have been on the panel, considering he’s overseeing the transition, she said she liked the way they did it.

“It’s a neutral environment, which is one of the reasons why I did not get up and speak or make any comments. I was really there to hear what the people of Surrey were looking for, I wanted to hear from them.”

Jeff Shantz, a criminology professor at KPU, said the “structure of the room was very much a privileged environment; it’s not representative of Surrey by any means.”


Dr. Jeff Shantz, KPU professor of criminology. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

“What was interesting to me was the number of people that got up and said we don’t have the evidence in terms of the police contribution to public safety, we don’t even know how we define collectively public safety and what we want as public safety outcomes, we’re not certain about whether other social resources might be more appropriate, more applicable and maybe police don’t play that big of a role in public safety more broadly, but then, people literally the same person, in the same sentence, will say ‘For sure we need more cops.’”

“In this room, anyway, there’s kind of already an ideological commitment to more policing regardless of whether policing helps to make our community safe or more secure, contribute to community health and those sorts of things,” Shantz told the Now-Leader. “I thought that was very telling.”

McCallum has said he doesn’t like the Surrey RCMP taking its marching orders from Ottawa. “The management of the Surrey RCMP reports directly to and takes direction from Ottawa,” he told the Now-Leader last September.

Retired Surrey RCMP sergeant and spokesman Roger Morrow said that’s not true, noting Ottawa is “thousands of miles away, thank God for that. Surrey detachment is an autonomous detachment, they report to the mayor, council and the city. They report informationally to Ottawa, they are not governed by Ottawa.”

Moreover, he said, the mayor has made comments that 50 or 60 per cent of Surrey Mounties will join the new city force.

“There has not been any kind of poll whatsoever,” he said. “The RCMP pension does not translate to municipal. If you’re going to move over, depending on your service, you’re going to lose it. I wouldn’t go over.”


Roger Morrow, former spokesman for the Surrey RCMP and retired sergeant. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

The Surrey Board of Trade this week staged two forums on contentious issues — the other one was ride hailing, which McCallum opposes in Surrey.

McCallum, who was at the big city mayors’ meeting in Ottawa with the prime minister earlier this week, wasn’t at either Surrey event.

Asked if the Surrey Board of Trade is trying to re-fight October’s civic election, Huberman said the board would have staged “these types” of discussions and dialogues “no matter what the civic election result was going to be” and had been planning the RCMP forum before the election.

She noted the former Surrey First administration had discussed having a “possible” referendum on policing. “It’s the Surrey Board of Trade’s responsibility and mandate to instigate dialogue and feedback into our advocacy agenda and our advocacy has always been in support of the RCMP, in support of ride hailing, different transportation choices,” Huberman said.

“Right now we are in a situation where many of our advocacy positions are not in agreement with the local government, and that’s how it goes sometimes,” Huberman said.

“We have done significant research over the past 12, 13 years that I have been CEO, to maintain these positions, and we simply can’t switch it around because there’s a new local government but I think it’s so important for that dialogue and debate to continue every day because it leads to good decision making for the livability of our city and for economic development in our city.”


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