Community Safety Officer program shelved

Surrey considers creating its own security force to augment the RCMP

Surrey will be losing its Community Safety Officer program next year.

Surrey will be losing its Community Safety Officer program next year.

A four-year-old policing program – a key part of Surrey’s Crime Reduction Strategy – is coming to an end next year, leaving the city looking for cost-effective ways to get more law enforcement boots on the ground.

In July 2007, Surrey council endorsed a budget that included 10 Community Safety Officers (CSO). They do not carry sidearms, but are equipped with pepper spray and batons, and are under the command of the RCMP.

They also cost just over half of what it costs for a full RCMP constable.

They were part of a trial program borrowed from the United Kingdom, and became a central feature in the much touted Crime Reduction Strategy launched in 2007.

The Leader learned this week that the federal government is dismantling the program in 2015.

Surrey RCMP Officer in Charge Bill Fordy confirmed on Wednesday that the CSO program is being shelved.

Fordy said there’s a possibility the existing CSOs could be grandfathered.

Through a new federal program, Surrey would be able to opt for what Fordy called a “community constable” (a CSO which is armed, and presumably, better trained), a “community prevention officer,” or a regular constable.

All of these positions would receive more training than CSOs, so they would likely be more expensive.

Each CSO costs the city $75,000 annually, while a Surrey Mountie out of Regina’s training depot costs $140,000 (including salary and capital needs, such as cars).

Mayor Dianne Watts said the CSOs will be replaced by a separate city-run security force that will work closely with the Surrey RCMP.

The City of Surrey is also hiring 12 police officers this year and the same number next year, as was planned in last year’s 2014-2018 five-year budget. That hiring comes at a cost of $1.68 million annually – the equivalent of the annual taxes of 16 square blocks of homes.

On Feb. 14 Watts announced the city would be hiring 20 more community safety personnel over the next two years. She said they would be a police presence walking a beat, but would not be carrying guns.

She said at the time the funds for those personnel would be found within the existing city departmental budget, adding the total would be about $300,000 for the first six months of the program.

The new force will hit the ground mid-year, so the cost of each officer will be about $60,000 each (less the cost of uniforms and weapons).

The outgoing CSOs have been a central plank in the mayor’s Crime Reduction Strategy, which states as its first item under policing to “use Community Safety Officers.”

Watts said it’s unfortunate the CSOs will be lost, but assures the city is working on a model that will make Surrey streets safer.