Surrey’s departing police chief said Thursday it is “too simplistic” to say whether public safety can or cannot be sustained at present levels with a hiring freeze on new officers.
Officer in Charge Dwayne McDonald’s comments are not in line with those made by Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who told media last week that McDonald “assured me we can get by this year and continue to make this city safe with the same number of officers we have now.”
Then, McCallum had been commenting on council’s approval (5-4 vote) of the city’s 2020 budget, which deprives the Surrey RCMP of new officers for a second straight year as a result of an estimated $45 million two-year transition to the envisioned Surrey Police Department.
“My recall of that conversation is that we would do our utmost to maintain community and public safety,” said McDonald Thursday at a press conference that introduced incoming Officer in Charge Brian Edwards (as of next month).
McDonald had issued a statement the day after the budget’s approval on December 2, stating, despite the purported assurances he made to McCallum, “it is important that we acknowledge the detrimental effect this will have on our service delivery model and on the health and wellness of our members and municipal support staff.”
McDonald said Thursday he stands by last week’s statement.
“Without sufficient resources to combat all the emerging issues in this city – the growing population and the complexities of policing a developing city – at some point tough choices have to be made and that could have an impact on public safety initiatives or service delivery models. That will be an issue for Brian and his team to deal with.”
McDonald explained that with more 911 calls some officers working in crime prevention will likely have to be deployed to the streets. And he said it is those proactive anti-crime programs that have a positive impact on long-term crime statistics.
“You can only do so much with the resources you’re given. At some point in time if your calls for service and demands for resources are going up, and your resources remain stagnant, you have to look at how you deploy those resources. So at some point in time those programs may or may not have to be reviewed.”
And so, if or when officers are pulled to the streets to “get by,” as suggested by McCallum, it remains to be seen the impact of lesser crime prevention programming.
McDonald said he has a cordial relationship with McCallum yet he noted other municipalities in the region that are growing have added more police officers.
“Many of those areas experiencing the same challenges we have are increasing police resources,” he said.
McDonald is to become the new criminal operations officer of federal, investigative services and organized crime for B.C.
Meanwhile Edwards is to be promoted to assistant commissioner as he takes on the police chief role. He said leading the largest RCMP detachment in Canada is an honour.
He spoke to the challenge of dealing with the hiring freeze.
“There is no doubt that when a community is growing 800 to 1,000 people a month and there’s no increase in resources over time, that’s going to put pressure and strains on things. It’s just a matter of where those pressures are. If adjustments need to be made then we’ll move forward with adjustments.”
However, Edwards downplayed the transition process and the detachment’s involvement so far.
“I think it’s important to recognize the police transition has not been approved by the province. The province has struck a committee to study this issue. They will eventually report to the director of police services who will then present recommendations to the minister [Solicitor General Mike Farnworth]. That has not yet happened.”
Edwards said the police need to remain involved in anti-crime measures and programs that tackle significant problems such as homelessness, opioid abuse and gang violence.
“It’s a privilege to lead the men and women who lead these programs in surrey. I understand this is a particularly challenging time given the city’s expressed desire to move to a municipal police service. And that creates uncertainty for the public and uncertainty for the rank and file members of Surrey detachment. With that in mind I will say and assure the citizens of Surrey we’ll provide a top notch and excellent police service moving forward focused on crime reduction,” said Edwards.