Surrey city council’s approval Monday night of a budget devoid of funding for new police officers has prompted another rare statement into the political realm from the city’s RCMP detachment’s officer-in-charge.
Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald’s statement Tuesday morning also runs contrary to statements made Monday night by Mayor Doug McCallum, whose Safe Surrey Coalition approved the budget in a 5-4 vote.
McCallum told media Monday 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.”
McCallum also said, “Both our police chief and our fire chief have indicated with this level they can maintain the safety of our community.”
But McDonald’s relatively lengthy statement issued to media Tuesday morning states that with a second year of not adding more officers, “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, who is to soon step down from his police chief role, said, “The City of Surrey previously denied my request for 12 additional officers for 2019, and it was made clear to me that any additional requests for police resources would not be entertained while the city is petitioning the province for a municipal police service.”
Now, given an increase in call volume and files, “this may necessitate the redeployment of personnel from proactive and community based programs, which we know have a positive impact on crime prevention [and] to our essential service: frontline policing.”
Glacier Media asked McCallum to specify further the nature of his conversation with McDonald. He declined to comment. McDonald was asked to clarify whether public safety is in jeopardy next year with the hiring freeze., particularly if crime prevention programs are not impacted. He did not respond immediately.
McDonald did state, “In the long term, we cannot expect to see crime go down in a growing city without relative increases to police resources.”
He said there could be a reversal of crime rates trending downward since 2014 and the Crime Severity Index reaching a new low in 2018.
“As our staffing levels remain stagnant and Surrey’s population increases, demand for our police service continues to grow. This year, the Surrey RCMP has experienced a 3% increase in calls for service and a 3.6% increase in files. These increases equate to an average of 463 more calls per month and 585 additional files per month. This disparity between resources and calls for service means we will have to review the services we provide,” said McDonald, who last year publically objected to the transition.
Coun. Laurie Guerra, a member of McCallum’s coalition who voted in favour of the hiring freeze, said while she does not dispute the professional opinion of McDonald, she said it would not make sense to add more RCMP officers when a new municipal force is scheduled to launch in April 2021. Furthermore, in 2018, the RCMP training headquarters only provided six of 12 requested new recruits from the previous budget (approved in 2017), with the remaining six coming only this year.
Guerra maintained that no new RCMP officers should be added even if their addition to the force is staggered. She said the city is now deep into the transition process, having committed $45 million over the next two years in one-time costs.
With many questions surrounding the recruitment process, the city appears to be restricting the size of its main recruitment pool — the Surrey RCMP itself.
“It would be natural to expect a significant amount of interest among current Surrey RCMP members. These officers likely reside within the Metro Vancouver area and already have experience serving the citizens of Surrey,” states last June’s Police Transition Report commissioned by the city in consultation with the Vancouver Police Department.
Coun. Linda Annis, who is also executive director of Crime Stoppers, said the hiring freeze is pushing the RCMP “to the limit.”
She said in this two-year period, at least 20,000 new residents will have come to Surrey. Annis noted the per-capita discrepancy between Vancouver and Surrey is concerning; in Vancouver, there are 1,341 officers for about 678,000 people (1:505), and in Surrey there are just 784 officers for about 568,000 people (1:724), according to Statistics Canada.
Despite the hiring freeze, McDonald said, “The Surrey RCMP is committed to public safety but also to the safety and wellness of our officers and employees. The senior leadership team will continue to advocate for adequate resources, even as the City of Surrey and Province of B.C. work to determine the future of policing in Surrey.”
That future of the police force is partly in the hands of a joint transition team, which is composed of representatives from both the city and the province and is chaired by provincial government appointee Wally Oppal, a former B.C. attorney general. The team is expected to appoint a police board and provide more detailed costs and processes of the transition.