SURREY (NEWS 1130) – The province has given the Surrey mayor’s long-awaited move to do away with the RCMP and switch to a municipal police force the green light.
The province says a joint project team has been created to “ensure all key issues are addressed and all complex details are in place to facilitate an orderly transition.”
Former B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal has been appointed chair of the new committee. He will be tasked with advising those involved, from the Director of Police Services to the Solicitor General throughout the transition process.
The team will be made up of staff from both the city and the province, as well as experts.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth comments following decision to greenlight Surrey Police transition process: pic.twitter.com/2cNLgzRSiN
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) August 22, 2019
“The province acknowledges the work done to date on the Surrey transition plan, and respects the City of Surrey’s desire to transition to a municipal police department,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says.
He notes “substantial work” will be needed in order to make the transition happen, and says it will be done in phases.
“As this work progresses, and prior to any decision being made on future phases of the process, public safety will remain the priority,” Farnworth adds. “It is essential an adequate and effective precinct is maintained throughout a transition and beyond.”
The goal is to have a municipal police force in place in Surrey by April 2021. Whether the transition can be completed by that date will be determined by the newly established committee.
“They understand policing, they understand the issues involved,” Farnworth says. “That will be the committee’s job. I expect them to work expeditiously, but that will be in the hands of the committee.”
Once established, Surrey will pay for its own police force. However, Farnworth says the new committee will funded by the province.
‘It won’t be easy’: Committee Chair Oppal
Wally Oppal says a smooth transition will be challenging.
“Surrey adopting their own police force is going to be a major transition, and this is not easy. It’s complex,” he says. “My job is to head the transition team in order to see that the move from the RCMP to a municipal police force is done in a timely way and is done in accordance with The Police Act.”
Oppal adds it’s too early to talk about timelines because the team’s priority is making sure Surrey’s civic force follows established rules and guidelines.
One of the tasks for the committee will be examining how the switch will impact neighbouring communities, including Delta, which share resources with Mounties in Surrey.
“If you’re not sharing information, that becomes more difficult to solve crimes in a timely way. There are a number of factors–the governance, communications, number of regulations–that the director of policing services has mandated and we have to follow that,” he says.
When Oppal headed up BC’s Missing Women Commission of inquiry, his key recommendation was to set up a regional police force.
He says it’s not clear if Surrey’s transition will lead to more integrated services across Metro Vancouver.
“It would be speculative at best, at this stage, for me to say the move that Surrey’s making now could lead to regional policing, but certainly it’s something to think about.”
Councillor vocal about concerns ‘disappointed’ with lack of public consultation
Talks of a police transition have been the centre of much debate in Surrey for months. Scrapping the RCMP for a municipal force was one of Mayor Doug McCallum’s campaign promises in last year’s civic election.
Councillor Linda Annis, who’s been vocal about her concerns, says she’s disappointed with the continued lack of public consultation.
“It has always been important to me that the residents of Surrey have an active say in policing for Surrey, and whether it’s a transition or not,” she told NEWS 1130. “And I’m quite disappointed at this point in time that that has not occurred.”
However, despite her disappointment, Annis notes she’s hopeful Oppal and the new task force will “include a referendum as part of the overall transition process.”
Clr @LindaAnnisBC says the other advantage to this change of Wally Oppal chairing the transition from RCMP to #Surrey city force could be those not on @mccallum4mayor's team having a voice at the table. She says those opposing the plan have been shut out. #bcpoli
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) August 22, 2019
“I think it’s very important that the residents of Surrey get a better police force, not just changing the badges for the sake of changing the badges,” Annis says. “They deserve better than that, and we deserve more officers.”
Farnworth says there will be no referendum, and says the joint committee will be responsible for dealing with “the issues that need to be dealt with in terms of the development of that transition.”
Meantime, Annis has been the only Surrey First Councillor who has been vocal about the lack of public consultation on a new force.
She was among the four city councillors left off of McCallum’s transition committee who issued a joint statement last month to express concern about the transition plan.
Along with councillors Jack Hundial, Steven Pettigrew, and Brenda Locke, Annis’ concerns also included what they called the mayor’s “artificial deadline for the transition,” a lack of engagement with the community on the proposed transition, the “rushed nature” of the plan, numbers which suggest a municipal police force would mean fewer officers on the ground, as well as “no clear indication of the capital cost of this transition.”
Surrey’s police transition report was handed over the province for review in May.
McCallum confident in new force
Mayor Doug McCallum says he is confident the city will have a world class police force, and says it’s possible the transition can happen in the next two years.
“We’ll be up and running I’m pretty sure. If you look at the timelines, how fast we’ve gotten to this point at this point in time, it’s really amazing for a provincial government to move this quick,” he says. “I’m hopeful we’ll meet our timelines. I know they’re ambitious, so far we’re hitting our numbers pretty good.”
McCallum also says the new force will only cost 11 per cent more than the existing RCMP contract and will be manageable for tax payers.
“We will not increase property taxes any more than the consumer price index. This year it was 2.9 percent and that’s what taxes went up this year,” he says. “That commitment we will stand by.”
Former Attorney General Wally Oppal says the team he's leading to ensure a smooth transition can't discuss timelines yet because "It's a complex issue." Oppal's also worried about impact on neighbour communities like #DeltaBC re: integrated work now being done with the #RCMP.
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) August 23, 2019
When it comes to how many officers will be on the force, McCallum says that will be up to the new police chief who he hopes will be appointed in the next few months.
“We really don’t have, as a council, have control on how we police our city,” he says, adding he would like to see a community model for Surrey.
“The number of officers is mandated that the police chief determines that in whatever city it is,” he says. “In Surrey, the police chief determines how many officers he needs to make Surrey safe.”
McCallum says the new force will make the city safer.
-With files from Liza Yuzda
Editor’s Note: NEWS 1130 has removed an incorrect reference to what the estimated cost for the new police department would be.