The head of the Surrey police force transition team is denying Mayor Doug McCallum’s claim that “bureaucratic red tape” is delaying work on the plan.
“We’re not going to sacrifice quality for speed,” former attorney general Wally Oppal told the Now-Leader Tuesday.
Oppal’s comments come one day after McCallum issued a statement slamming a so-called “lack of progress” on the transition in the wake of a deadly daytime shooting at a Clayton gas station on Sept. 28.
It has been roughly five weeks since the provincial government gave its approval to Surrey’s plan to transition from RCMP to a municipal force, with Oppal tasked to oversee the transition committee.
“We’ll get it done, but it doesn’t help when these things get politicized. And the Surrey team has postponed twice.”
Oppal said Surrey’s team attended the first meeting of the committee, but cancelled the second and third meetings.
“I had time set aside last Thursday, from 1 to 3, and the week before I had 9 to 12 set aside on Thursday. I’ve told the Surrey team I’ll go out to Surrey. If they want to move this thing expeditiously, I can go out there. So we have this Thursday set aside and I’m waiting to hear.”
Oppal noted McCallum doesn’t attend the meetings, as he has professionals on staff who do that work.
“They are highly qualified people,” he said. “Everybody who’s in the room is operating in good faith so I’m not suggesting anything untoward when I say the Surrey team postponed the meetings, they may have had legitimate reasons for doing that.”
Oppal said Tuesday his agenda, “and the agenda of the transition team is to establish a police force that’s excellent and serves Surrey well.”
“The province has given the red light to Surrey to establish it’s own police force. This is a complex issue,” he said. “What we’re doing is establishing a police force, a police department, right from the ground up. It’s not easy, and it’s complex.”
Oppal said the committee’s first job is to establish a police board, which will then select a police chief.
“After that, there’s a recruitment program that has to go into effect, and training programs,” he explained. “Right now, we’re having challenges because the police academy, the Justice Institute, is operating at full capacity. So we have to figure out where the new police force will train.”
The transition from RCMP to a municipal force also comes with its own issues, Oppal noted.
“For instance, what about the ongoing investigations, and ongoing prosecutions, how do we handle these? These are not political issues, they’re real issues that have to be done if we’re going to have an excellent police force. People need to be patient.”
Another complex matter is how a Surrey police force will effect neighbouring police forces, and how they will liaise.
Asked if Surrey’s cost estimates for its new force were accurate, Oppal chuckled as he replied it’s too early to know.
“That’s what everybody wants to know,” he said. “I don’t know. We have a number of guys in the room, Paul Gill, an auditor, so we have people who will be auditing and telling us what the costs will be.”
But the timeline remains unchanged, with the force set to launch in the spring of 2021.
“Everybody agreed on that. So we’re aiming for that and I see no reason why we can’t accomplish that.”