Surrey’s new mayor is forging ahead with a plan to halt the transition to a municipal police force, even as the Surrey Police Union rejected Tuesday the RCMP’s rosy outlook on staffing and falling crime statistics.
Brenda Locke says she will now have a plan to stick with the RCMP ready for Mike Farnworth, Public Safety minister and solicitor-general, by mid-December. That plan will include costs of halting the transition versus staying with the Mounties.
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Initially, Locke said the plan would be ready by the end of November.
“(Farnworth) will have the report and the numbers by the 15th,” said Locke. “I’ll be talking to both the premier (David Eby) and to the solicitor-general over the coming weeks to let them know where we’re at with the progress on this.”
The B.C. government has the final say on halting the transition to the Surrey Police Service (SPS), which is well underway with more than $108 million spent and nearly 350 officers and civilians hired.
Locke’s comments, at a Tuesday morning news conference, came as the union took exception to a favourable picture of the city’s RCMP painted at Monday’s city council meeting, in which a “framework” for halting the transition was endorsed by Locke’s majority-Surrey Connect members.
At Monday night’s meeting it was revealed that the city and the RCMP has struck a “joint project team” to oversee the final plan to keep the Mounties, which includes senior leadership of the city and RCMP consultants Peter German and Tonia Enger, both former senior RCMP officers.
RCMP assistant commissioner Brian Edwards, head of the Surrey RCMP, said crime stats are down and pointed to RCMP teams he said were tailored to the city’s needs including on gang enforcement and mobile street enforcement. Edwards said the Mounties would need to add more than 160 officers to bring its staffing to 734 officers but saw no problem in doing that.
But on Tuesday morning, the union argued the presentation had omitted critical information, saying some shifts have been below RCMP staffing standards, with only one to three officers patrolling South Surrey and Cloverdale at night, and resulting in dangers for Surrey residents and officers. The union also said the operations centre responsible for 911 has been understaffed, arguing that less calls being taken is the reason why crime stats are falling.
Neither the SPS nor the union was asked to present information at Monday’s council meeting.
“The SPU is releasing this information because it is critical that our elected officials and Surrey residents have accuracy about the realities on the streets of our city before any major decisions are made,” said SPU president Rick Stewart.
At the Tuesday news conference, Locke said the union was trying to create its own narrative.
“I’m not concerned at all,” she said.
The union said it was so worried about the staffing levels that it submitted complaints over health and safety for both RCMP and SPS officers under the Canada Labour Code and also to WorkSafeBC. Both complaints were rejected because of jurisdictional issues.
In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, the Surrey RCMP said the stats and numbers provided by the union were inaccurate and deliberately misleading. The RCMP noted that on any shift there are front-line officers but also plainclothes investigators, gang patrols, traffic officers and serious crime investigators that can be called on.
“I call on the Surrey Police Service executive to expend all efforts to discontinue this harmful rhetoric from the Surrey Police Union,” said Edwards.
The current process underscores the transition debate continues to take place without any independent cost-benefit analysis. The report to be delivered to the B.C. government will include numbers put together by Surrey city staff. When Richmond and Red Deer, Alta., considered switching to a municipal force from the RCMP in the past decade, the municipalities hired outside consultants to provide analysis.
Farnworth has already said Surrey must explain fully how they propose to halt the transition, the costs and how the 300-plus officers who signed on in good faith will be dealt with.
He says the RCMP will also have to provide a plan on how they would restaff Surrey with officers. He has also said the city is on the hook for all costs, including severance, if the transition to a municipal police force is halted. Severance has been estimated at as much as $80 million.