Provincial government takes control of Surrey police transition team

Questions over transition costs, transparency and officer numbers remain

The provincial government announced Thursday it will chart a path for the City of Surrey to shift from the RCMP to a municipal police force by forming a “joint transition committee” chaired by former Attorney General Hon. Wally Oppal.

But whether the committee can address concerns over costs, timeline and public transparency will remain to be seen, critics say.

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“To ensure all key issues are addressed and all complex details are in place to facilitate an orderly transition, a joint project team has been struck,” announced Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth in a joint statement with Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum.

The project team, or committee, will consist of a mix of provincial and municipal employees.

“I fully support it. In fact I was consulted on it and I think they couldn’t have picked a better person than Wally Oppal,” said McCallum at city hall Thursday.

The next step of the transition is for the committee to address various transition issues and then form a police board, which will then be tasked to hire a chief, said McCallum.

The volunteer board would eventually set budgets, determine policing needs, review staff performance, hire the chief constable and handle labour relations and discipline. It could consist of up to nine community members, including the mayor who will chair the board. The Solicitor General appoints up to seven members while council appoints one.

A Surrey police force will cost $19 million to transition, according to a recent city report. Annual operating costs will increase 10.9 % once the transition is completed in 2021, after the city’s contract with the RCMP expires, said McCallum, who added there will be “some time” when existing RCMP officers and new municipal officers work together.

McCallum is unsure how many local Surrey RCMP officers will move over to the municipal force.

Recruitment is just one of many questions that have arisen during McCallum’s 10-month tenure as mayor since being elected last October alongside seven councillors from the Safe Surrey coalition.

Because of perceived lack of transparency in handling the transition, three Safe Surrey councillors have become independent in 2019, leaving McCallum with only a slight 5-4 majority.

On Thursday he dismissed the notion of a referendum, stating Safe Surrey ran a campaign to change police forces without one. The election, said McCallum, was that referendum.

While McCallum was flanked by three of his remaining four Safe Surrey councillors speaking at city hall, former ally Coun. Brenda Locke watched from behind a row of media.

Locke put much confidence behind Oppal to conduct his “due diligence.”

She’s previously blasted the city report on “fuzzy” costs and spending cuts.

Despite McCallum offering assurances taxes will not increase beyond inflation, Locke said “the public has no idea what the result will be in terms of increase in taxation.”

And she’s raised concerns over McCallum cutting services. Already, she noted, the city has tabled cuts to the RCMP Police Mental Health and Outreach Team over the next few years.

Coun. Linda Annis, once a lone wolf on council, said the primary concern needs to be more police officers.

“It’s not about changing the badge. What will make a difference is getting more police officers,” which the transition report does not indicate will happen, said Annis, currently the executive director of Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers.

She said the city needs to add about 300 officers on top of the roughly 800 it has already, noting Vancouver has 1,400.

Annis and Locke questioned transition costs as well, suggesting there will be hidden expenses.

In 2016 the City of Richmond conducted its own review and determined transition costs, for a force one quarter the size of Surrey’s, would be about $20 million. Richmond council also cited concerns of an eventual move to a regional police force.

An RCMP officer costs about $100,000 annually, according to Richmond.

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