Five months into an ambitious plan to replace the RCMP with a new municipal force in Surrey, hundreds of RCMP officers have yet to be canvassed on their interest in joining the new force or other issues related to the project, the Mounties say.
Some critics say this is part of a haphazard approach to the massive project in B.C.'s second-largest city, one they say will cause an information deficit in planning for the new force. The initiative, which is currently under review by the provincial government, has already come under fire because details of the plan are not being released to the public.
The RCMP also says it has not canvassed its own staff about the project. “The RCMP has not conducted such a survey, nor is it aware of any other agency that has,” Stephen Thatcher, the Lower Mainland district commander, said in a statement responding to a Globe and Mail question about the issue.
In the statement, Mr. Thatcher said it may be early for such a survey without details from the city on exactly how the new force is going to work when it comes to pay and benefits and career development.
Some in Surrey say that it is concerning that several months into a two-year effort to replace the Mounties there is no general sense of how the force of about 800 officers in the current RCMP detachment view the project.
“We should be concerned about that. I am past the point of being surprised,” said Mike Larsen, co-chair of the criminology department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and president of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.
Mr. Larsen, who has criticized the lack of public consultation in the project, said comments from Mayor Doug McCallum about the interests of officers in the new force have largely been anecdotal, without any assessment to see how many are interested in the force.
Mr. McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition ran on a promise to create a new police force in Surrey, saying it would offer better service than the RCMP, which has policed the community since 1951.
Asked about the issue on Wednesday, Oliver Lum, a communications manager for the city, said that the city is focused on completing its report on how the new force would work.
The Surrey policing proposal is being drafted by a policing transition unit at city hall, which has yet to disclose its approach to the shift.
Anita Huberman, the chair of the Surrey Board of Trade, said the views of individual officers, along with the public, have apparently been sidelined by a lack of public consultation on the Surrey policing project.
The Surrey Board of Trade, representing 2,600 members, is opposed to the shift in policing because it says the transition will be logistically challenging and expensive, possibly costing between $50-million and $100-million.
In an interview, Ms. Huberman said it is not too early to be getting a sense of the views of officers since they are the labour force vital to the new police force.
Premier John Horgan, this week, raised concerns about Surrey’s plan to send a detailed proposal on policing to the province without allowing the public access to the document.
However, the province has said it is premature to say that it would block the changeover without consultation.
Surrey city councillor Jack Hundial, a former Mountie in the city detachment who has been critical of the agenda to replace the RCMP, said in an e-mail exchange on Wednesday that he has yet to hear from a friend or former colleague in the force who is interested in joining the new force.
Brian Sauvé, an RCMP sergeant in Surrey who is also founder of the National Police Federation that is trying to unionize Mounties, said his sense is that few members are interested in moving over to a municipal police force. He said officers join the RCMP so they can gain experience on a range of assignments not typically offered in smaller police forces.
“A lot of members joined the RCMP because we’re the RCMP, because of the opportunities for mobility, because of the different jobs that we do."