Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is expected to rely heavily on the expertise of Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, his executive and senior city staff at city hall in his push to have a municipal police force replace the RCMP in Surrey.
The City of Surrey announced Wednesday in a news release that it is working to develop an agreement with the VPD and City of Vancouver to essentially instruct McCallum and Surrey city staff on how to build a municipal police department from the ground up.
The City of Surrey is expected to pick up costs of the Vancouver contingent’s work.
But those costs, number of staff required from city hall and the VPD—and time spent on the file—are details yet to be worked out. Once an agreement is finalized, it will go before the Vancouver Police Board and city council for approval.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who doubles as chairperson of the police board, said Wednesday that he expected to see a copy of the agreement “within days.” Stewart said he supports the proposed partnership but added “the devil’s in the details.”
“It would be a poor gesture not to look at this and give it really serious consideration,” the mayor told the Courier. “I want to help my regional partners achieve their goals, and this is what Surrey would like to do, so I’m going to try to help.”
McCallum, who was elected mayor of Surrey in November, ran on a platform to replace the RCMP with a municipal department. Surrey has the largest RCMP detachment in Canada, with more than 1,000 officers, staff and volunteers.
McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition party said on its campaign website that Surrey had “outgrown the RCMP” and described the national police service as “an excellent rural police force.” The Safe Surrey Coalition said the city needed a new force designed and trained to tackle urban issues.
The Courier requested an interview with McCallum Wednesday but had not heard back before this story was posted. He told the CBC in October that he could have a municipal force operating within two years, noting Surrey owns the RCMP vehicles and equipment. Surrey also pays for the RCMP’s support staff.
“What Vancouver and its police department bring to the table are experience and knowledge that will help us create, in short order, a police department that meets the needs of our city and ensures the safety and security of all Surrey residents,” McCallum said in the news release issued by the City of Surrey.
Paul Mochrie, the city’s deputy city manager, will be one of the key point people from Vancouver working on the file. Mochrie will work closely with Terry Waterhouse, who is overseeing Surrey’s transition from the RCMP to a municipal force.
Asked whether the business of the City of Vancouver will be affected by the increased workload in Surrey, Mochrie said his priority will continue to be his work at city hall.
“At this point in time, our sense is we should be able to provide support,” he said. “But the magnitude and the timeline and what commitments we’re going to be able to make are details we still need to work out.”
The Courier requested to speak with Chief Palmer but he was not available Thursday. Const. Jason Doucette, a VPD media relations officer, said the department didn’t have “additional information to share” and directed calls to the City of Surrey and City of Vancouver.
The VPD has more than 1,250 officers and has an operating budget proposed for next year of $294 million.
Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union, said he is interested to know how many officers will be working on Surrey’s transition to a municipal force and what that means for the department.
“We’re already challenged enough with the demand here and the resources to meet that demand,” said Stamatakis, noting the department won’t be up to its authorized strength of more than 1,300 officers until the end of 2019. “So I’m going to be very interested to know what all those details are going to be.”
He said a new department in Surrey will likely attract current VPD officers interested in shorter commute times and new opportunities that come with the creation of a new force.
“There’s going to be some movement,” Stamatakis said. “This will be a disruptive change, in terms of how policing is delivered in the region. But it will also be disruptive in terms of staffing and people because it will be an attractive option for some people.”
Mayor Stewart said a new municipal force in Surrey will also likely attract RCMP officers.
“The salaries here in Vancouver are actually quite a lot higher, on average, than the RCMP salaries,” he said. “So I would think perhaps there might be a draw from the RCMP to the Surrey force. The chief [Palmer] has noted a number of times to me that once people come to the VPD, they tend to stay.”
Stewart said such a partnership with Surrey shouldn’t be viewed as a step towards a regional police force in Metro Vancouver, although he acknowledged support over the years from various police leaders and politicians in the region.
“I don’t see this as any kind of mission creep for the VPD, or geographic creep for them,” he said. “I do see it as a neighbour asking for help and we’re seeing what we can do to help.”
Added Stewart: “The VPD is a great model for Surrey to use. As we’re going through this process, we can look for ways to coordinate more regionally. We are the two biggest cities in the region, so I could see things like joint-training facilities where costs are shared, and that makes it cheaper for everybody.”
In 2013, the Vancouver Police Board confirmed its support for a regional policing model, arguing it was a more effective and efficient way to deliver policing services in the Metro Vancouver, which is currently a patchwork of municipal departments and RCMP detachments.
Former police chief Jim Chu and former mayor Gregor Robertson both supported a regional policing model for Metro Vancouver. Stamatakis said a regional force is inevitable as the Lower Mainland’s population grows.
“I don’t think having stand-alone police organizations trying to manage what are effectively now more and more regional issues—whether they’re related to crime or whether they’re related to social issues such as mental health and homelessness—these are not issues that belong exclusively to one community,” he said. “They’re issues that transcend our municipal boundaries.”
Creating a regional force was one of the key recommendations in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report released in 2012. At the time, mayors from Surrey, Delta and Port Moody were among suburban leaders opposed to creating one force for Metro Vancouver. They were worried of losing their community policing approach and having officers assigned to work on more high-profile crimes in Vancouver.