Surrey, B.C.'s plans for a new municipal police force will cost more for fewer officers than the city’s current RCMP service, according to a long-awaited city report released Monday.
Subject to provincial approval, British Columbia’s second largest city will deploy the new police department in August, 2021, one year later than Mayor Doug McCallum had originally promised. The new force will cost 10.9 per cent more a year than the current arrangement that has had the RCMP police the community since 1951.
The new department will also have fewer officers: 805, compared with the current authorized RCMP complement of 843 officers. The city said that because there are currently 51 vacancies, there are actually 792 officers on the beat in Surrey, which is about the size of Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby combined.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the RCMP in Surrey disputed some aspects of the city’s report. It said the force has a full complement of officers (843).
During a news conference on Monday, Mr. McCallum said the cost increase for about the same number of officers was valid, given public concerns about crime.
“We got elected on that exact answer to that question,” he said. “Our people feel unsafe out there. They want their own Surrey police force. That’s why we ran. That’s why I am sitting here today."
Ousting the Mounties to create a police force more responsive to local concerns was a key pledge of Mr. McCallum and his council supporters in last fall’s election. Members of Mr. McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition won seven of eight council seats, though one councilor has dropped out of the coalition partly due to concerns over a lack of public consultation on the police plan.
Mr. McCallum said he has had “zero pushback” on creating a Surrey police force beyond a “small group.”
Critics have included Premier John Horgan, who has expressed concerns about the lack of public consultation. His government has to approve the plan recently submitted to Victoria.
The office of Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth released a statement in which he said he thought it important for the report to be released, but that he would have no further comment while his team reviews the report.
During his first state-of-the-city address in early May, Mr. McCallum said the Surrey police department would be “patrolling our streets" by July, 2020. However, asked about the delayed August, 2021, rollout, the mayor said he would be starting to get “up and running” in July.
City Councillor Linda Annis, in a scrum, said the reduction in the number of members is not in Surrey's best interests.
“I don’t think we should be changing the badges just to be changing the badges,” she said, adding the timelines are not realistic.
She also said the process is being rushed without proper consultation with members of the public who are financing the plan. “They have every right to voice their opinion,” said Ms. Annis, the sole council member, among eight, of the Surrey First political organization that governed Surrey for a decade until last fall.
Given the growth of Surrey, gaining about 1,000 new residents a year, she said the RCMP is significantly under-resourced.
“We’re reducing the number of armed members in the City of Surrey. That’s not the right direction,” she said. “Common sense would say we need to be increasing the number of members.”
Given the size of Surrey, which is the size of Richmond, Burnaby and Vancouver combined, she said the city needs a larger police department. “It’s something we should be taking our time [on] and doing methodically,” she said.
Brian Sauve, founder of the National Police Federation, which is trying to unionize RCMP members and also a sergeant in Surrey, said the mayor has gotten the whole process backwards in terms of consulting the public.
The city has launched some public consultation ahead of releasing the report Monday with details of how the new force will work.
“I don’t know how Mayor McCallum is going to fix it. He’s doing it backwards,” Mr. Sauve said. “You would think you’d want to have some consultation with the electorate before you put a proposal to government.”