Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum in Vancouver, on Thursday November 1, 2018. One of British Columbia’s largest cities is in a unique position to redefine policing at a time when anti-racism advocates are calling for an overhaul. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Surrey in rare position to redefine policing amid calls for defunding

The wheels were set in motion for the new police service in 2018

One of British Columbia’s largest cities is in a unique position to redefine policing at a time when anti-racism advocates are calling for an overhaul.

Surrey was in the midst of replacing the largest RCMP detachment in Canada with a municipal force when the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to Black Lives Matter protests around the world.

But with Mayor Doug McCallum envisioning an increase in police presence rather than defunding the force, Surrey’s new model appears unlikely to fulfil protesters’ vision for a fundamental shift in the mandate of the police.

“It’s going to be a new, modern, proactive police service,” McCallum said in a recent interview, adding that he’d like to see officers so involved in the community that they pre-empt 911 calls.

“It’s not like the old model of policing that is all reactive — somebody phones 911, they rush to see what the problem is. That’s all reactive. We want to get out in front of that so that they don’t have to make that 911 call.”

McCallum, who also chairs the police board, said it will be a priority to hire officers who reflect the city’s diversity.

The wheels were set in motion for the new police service in 2018, when Surrey’s new council terminated its contract with the RCMP. Voters filled all but one council seat with Safe Surrey party members, including McCallum, who ran on making the change.

Safe Surrey has pointed to rising crime as justification for the shift while the RCMP has defended its record, saying statistics don’t back up that perception.

Since then, the anti-racism movement has prompted deeper questioning in North American communities about what role officers should play in society. Protesters have called for governments to redirect spending from police into community resources like housing and health services.

READ MORE: Surrey Police will replace RCMP, government confirms

While the budget for Surrey’s municipal force has not been set, it appears to require broad funding, including for positions outside the police force itself.

According to McCallum’s vision, front-line officers would be backed by an increase in bylaw officers, school liaison officers and others.

He also expects they will work in teams with social workers, health workers and others when responding to issues like homelessness or mental health emergencies.

“Putting a team together to address it is the most effective way to do it,” he said. “Yes, police have to be part of the team, but they’re only a part.”

Mounties in Surrey already work in teams with nurses specializing in mental health through its Car 67 program. Those teams responded to just under 900 of the 7,600 mental-health calls the detachment received last year.

McCallum is only one voice on the nine-member police board and whether his vision comes to fruition remains to be seen. The mayor said the board plans to meet by the end of July and hire a police chief in August.

Chief Harley Chappell of the Semiahmoo First Nation said he applied to join the police board because the municipality has not included his community in plans for the new force, despite the city being home to one of the largest urban Indigenous populations in Canada.

After a long history of poor relations with police, the First Nation has finally developed a good working relationship with the RCMP, said Chappell, who was appointed to the board by the province.

Semiahmoo leaders are in regular contact with the staff sergeant of the RCMP’s diversity unit. And an officer dedicated to the First Nation has taken time to develop relationships with its members over many years, he said.

Now that work seems to be at stake. Chappell said he’d like to see those relationships expanded, not scrapped.

“My wish is to have that diversity unit expanded to have First Nations policing as part of the municipal force, to ensure that relationship is there between the municipality, the police service and the First Nations people in the area.”

READ MORE: ‘World of difference’ between policing in Canada & U.S.: Oppal

Chappell said he wasn’t prepared to share his perspective on broader ideas regarding police mandates and funding, but as a former social services worker he believes prevention is often overlooked as a priority.

Harsha Walia, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said she doesn’t have a lot of faith that significant change will happen in Surrey and expects to see a strengthening of the “law and order agenda.”

“I think what we’ll end up seeing is this version of community policing dealing with mental health, homelessness, substance use and ‘gangs’ in Surrey and police kind of emerging as this catch-all solution, rather than the more rigorous social, political and economic transformation that’s needed,” she said.

Diversifying the police force is a more superficial response to the systemic racism in law enforcement that puts Black, Indigenous and people of colour at a higher risk of violence and criminalization, Walia said.

And pairing officers with health workers for “wellness checks” won’t stop violence from escalating if the officer takes over as soon as a threat is identified, she said.

“I think right now we’re in a moment where there’s a deep questioning,” she said.

“The social issues in Surrey that have been emerging for so long, that have really been the momentum that has propelled the idea of a municipal force forward, I think there’s a second kind of question that needs to be asked. Not only, is this something that a municipal police force can resolve, but is this something that police at all can and should be resolving?”

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

PoliceRCMPSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police warn of ‘dangerous’ sex offender, with ‘high risk to re-offend,’ living in Surrey

Howard Geddes-Skelding, 28, was released from BC Corrections Aug. 14, Surrey RCMP say

Now reopened, Surrey McDonald’s closed temporarily after possible COVID-19 exposure

Restaurant chain says employee had been ‘in contact with an individual who tested positive’

Surrey students paint mural, paying homage to First Nations, at SkyTrain station

Artwork to showcase ‘positivity and racial inclusivity in the city’

PHOTOS: Residents showcased as ‘companion’ sculpture unveiled

Amica White Rock welcomes bronze guardian, celebrates resident talent

‘Don’t kill my mom’: Ryan Reynolds calls on young British Columbians to be COVID-smart

‘Deadpool’ celebrity responds to premier’s call for social influence support

Unofficial holidays: here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Aug. 16 to 22

World Photography Day, Black Cat Appreciation Day and Rum Day all coming up this week

Captain Horvat’s OT marker lifts Canucks to 4-3 win over Blues

Vancouver takes 2-0 lead in best-of-7 NHL playoff series with St. Louis

PHOTOS/VIDEO: Wings and Wheels set for weekend lift-off in Abbotsford

Fundraiser to raise money for Crystal Gala Foundation and the fight against breast cancer

Undercover video shows alleged animal abuse at Fraser Valley egg farm

One employee wearing logo of Chilliwack chicken-catching company already facing abuse charges

Widow of slain Red Deer doctor thanks community for support ahead of vigil

Fellow doctors, members of the public will gather for a physically-distanced vigil in central Alberta

Protesters showcase massive old yellow cedar as Port Renfrew area forest blockade continues

9.5-foot-wide yellow cedar measured by Ancient Forest Alliance campaigners in Fairy Creek watershed

Taking dog feces and a jackhammer to neighbourhood dispute costs B.C. man $16,000

‘Pellegrin’s actions were motivated by malice …a vindictive, pointless, dangerous and unlawful act’

Most Read