COLUMN: Delays not helping case for Surrey Police Department

Maybe the transition to a Surrey Police force isn’t as high a priority for city staff as it is for Mayor Doug McCallum.

The mayor, who misses no occasion to trumpet the need for a city police force, wasted little time issuing a press release when he arrived back at city hall after a weekend break. This happened on Monday (Sept. 30), after a targeted murder during daylight hours at a Clayton gas station, two days earlier. He said in the press release, “the community believes now, more than ever, that we need to work as quickly as possible to get SPD officers out on the streets.”

Most Surrey residents are well aware that we have a police force – Surrey RCMP. Those who were paying any attention to this latest act of violence also knew that the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) was on the scene soon after police were first called. IHIT is a unit combining members of both the RCMP and municipal forces, and presumably will continue to investigate murders in Surrey if the city ever gets its own police force.

Changing the name and organizational structure of the police force is not going to change the fact that gangsters are busy shooting at each other and killing their rivals (and also some innocent people) on a pretty regular basis in this city. This has been going on for years, and as Black Press Media columnist Tom Zytaruk wrote, it is similar to a movie loop. He referenced the character played by Bill Murray in the well-known movie Groundhog Day, who experiences the same day, and the same events, over and over.

The mayor also expressed in his press release frustration that “bureaucratic red tape” is delaying the transition to a municipal force. Thus, it was quite surprising to hear later in the week that retired Supreme Court judge and former attorney-general Wally Oppal has been forced to cancel two of three scheduled meetings with Surrey staff working on this issue – because of their unavailability.

Oppal was asked by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to chair a committee to work through various issues relating to the transition. The province has conditionally approved changing to a Surrey Police force, but only after a number of issues, including training and staffing, can be worked through by the committee.

Oppal said the committee was able to hold its first meeting, but city staff’s inability to attend the next two led to their cancellation. He has offered to hold meetings in Surrey if that is more convenient. Clearly, he is ready to get to work on the issue.

What’s the problem with city staff? McCallum is not part of the committee, so he is not the direct cause of the cancellations. Are they not attending on his orders? Or are they so busy with other matters that the committee is low on the priority list?

Oppal said of the staff members, “They are highly qualified people. 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 the plan to have a Surrey Police force in place by 2021 is still in place, but in order to get to that point, a lot of work has to be done.

If McCallum is truly concerned, he should do his utmost to ensure that these meetings go ahead on a timely basis.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

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