Mayor Doug McCallum reaffirmed his commitment to establishing a city police force during his 2019 State of the City Address this morning in Surrey.
It’s a move that takes “political courage” and is a “political minefield,” he told a crowd of approximately 200 in the ballroom at the Civic Hotel.
He also unveiled a website, surreypolice.ca, which he says will allow residents to provide input into the creation of the force.
“In the coming weeks we will be asking our residents to tell us which priorities they want to see for their new city police and help guide it into the future,” said McCallum, who also used the opportunity to showcase an example of a Surrey Police cruiser outside Civic Hotel.
During his speech, the audience was also shown a photo of what Surrey Police uniforms might look like and a promotional video for a new force.
The mayor told the audience Surrey Police officers would be “patrolling our streets by July 2020.”
Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis said it’s “very optimistic” for the mayor to say officers will be on Surrey streets that quickly.
“The report still hasn’t gone to Victoria, we don’t know how long Victoria will take to review the report. They may come back to us with further recommendations or they may say no-go. I don’t think we can be setting those kinds of targets at this point in time.”
Annis also took issue with the mayor unveiling uniforms and police cruisers this early on.
“I know that’s part of the marketing and part of the sales pitch for switching the police but really at the end of the day the sales pitch should be how are we going to feel safer by making the switch.”
Further, she doesn’t see the new website as thorough public engagement.
“We need to meet with the public one-on-one,” she said. “It’s important we reach out to community groups, we get their input. I think the website’s a good start, but I’ve not seen it yet, that’s the first I heard of it today.”
Annis reiterated previous comments she’s made that citizens “have a right” to know the cost of the transition plan.
“It could be as high as 60 per cent. We don’t know,” she said. “I think even more importantly they need to know how by switching police forces is it going to make them feel safer.”
During his speech, McCallum said the transition plan will be in the hands of the provincial government “soon” and that “nothing has changed” in terms of the cost’s associated with the new force’s creation.
“My view is that it will be around the 10 per cent range, and I stand by that,” he insisted.
“Surrey is the largest city in the country that does not have its own local police department,” he said. “And that, ladies and gentleman, is the root of the problem. Without our own city police department, without our own local police board, accountability ultimately lies in Ottawa. By establishing our Surrey Police, the accountability will stay in our city, with Surrey’s residents and business owners where it belongs.”
McCallum said the transition plan is “sound.”
“We have one of the finest city police forces in the country if not the continent, helping us with the transition document,” he said, thanking Vancouver Police Board Chair Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer for their help.
“I am very confident that the province will like what it sees.”
McCallum said discussions haven’t begun regarding the selection of a police chief.
Once provincial approval is achieved, he said, “the next step is to form Surrey Police Board and Surrey’s Police Board will be the governing body of Surrey Police and one of their first responsibilities will be to select a new Surrey Police commander.”
Asked by reporters if he would change the yet-to-be-revealed policing plan if public input yields unfavourable reactions to it, McCallum replied “we always will listen to the public if they’ve got some ideas as far as what they want to see our police do in our community.”
During his speech, the mayor also highlighted his Safe Surrey Coalition’s “to do list,” noting the policing transition as well as the switch from LRT to SkyTrain that was done on the night they were sworn into office.
Other commitments council has stuck to, he noted, include implementing “smart development” and allowing no construction in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Further, he spoke about reduction in residential building permit wait times from 25 weeks to 15, holding property tax increases to the Consumer Price Index and bringing the city’s “debt load under control by taking a pay as you go approach.”
Other actions the mayor mentioned included the establishing free, two-hour parking at city hall and on streets around Surrey Memorial Hospital; establishing an Independent Ethics Commissioner; creating truck parking and community engagement task forces.
And, McCallum said the city has begun planning for a new track and field facility at Bear Creek Park and a Kabaddi facility.
The mayor told the audience that Surrey will also “add 50 new parks” over the next 10 years.
McCallum also spoke about his desire to have major construction projects done around the clock.
“We can get a major project, like SkyTrain, up and running quicker, avoid costly delays and ultimately save money along the way. I have my city staff looking at how we can implement this in Surrey for our large infrastructure projects.”
“As you can see, the items on my ‘to do list’ are either checked off or well underway. If you look at how much we have done in the past six months, some might say, you have earned a break so why not take your foot off the gas pedal? As far as I am concerned, we are not in a hundred-metre sprint, we are running a marathon. We are on a four-year course and there are no rest stops along the way.”
McCallum said Surrey topped $1.5 billion in permits last year and that the city is “on track to beat that number this year.”
“Right now we are more than $250 million dollars ahead of the same period last year. Not surprising when you consider that in City Centre alone there are currently more than 16 high-rise developments in the works.”
McCallum noted “more than ever” companies are choosing Surrey as a business location, including U.S.-based entities.
“Being next to the border is a major reason why four U.S. based I.T. companies have expanded to South Surrey, and we expect more to follow suit,” he said, pointing to a $175 million Walmart warehouse and distribution centre being built in Campbell Heights.
“There is no question that things are moving in leaps and bounds in Surrey. And why not? After all, we have a clear mandate from the voters. As you have seen this morning, we are delivering on the commitments from our campaign.”