COLUMN: MacRae will be difficult man to replace

Surrey’s top cop set to retire from the RCMP on June 1

Assistant Commissioner Fraser MacRae is retiring as the officer in charge of Surrey RCMP, and it will be difficult to replace him. He has been an outstanding chief of police and a great advocate for making Surrey a better place to live.

His last day on the job will be June 1, and by then he will have served almost eight years as head of the detachment.

During that time, there have been many changes in Surrey. The city has grown tremendously, and the police force has also substantially grown in size.

The main police building itself, next to city hall, the courthouse and the pre-trial centre, has also been expanded, to accommodate the additional staff and the need for storing exhibits. Surrey RCMP now has 661 members, with another 250 civilian staff.

Policing has also changed in the Lower Mainland, with a number of specialized units set up, made up of both RCMP and municipal police force members (with the notable exception of Vancouver). This has allowed city borders to become much less of an inhibiting factor in dealing with important issues.

There is now a specialized approach to police incidents such as serious traffic crashes and murders, making better use of police resources and ensuring that highly-trained people are on the scene quickly.

Crime, on a per capita basis, has been falling in Surrey for much of MacRae’s tenure here. One big step forward was the formation of a special task force on car theft. This and the widespread use of bait cars has cut car thefts dramatically, and the most prolific car thieves have spent at least some time behind bars. While it could be argued they should spend far more time in jail, that is a function of criminal law and the justice system, not the police.

MacRae has forged an excellent working relationship with Surrey council and senior staff, under the administrations of former mayor Doug McCallum and current Mayor Dianne Watts. The RCMP have been as responsive, co-operative and nimble in their dealings with the city as I can ever recall in my own experience of more than 30 years of dealing with Surrey RCMP as a member of the media.

The precinct system in place in Surrey, which began before MacRae’s tenure and has been built on by him, is fairly unique in the RCMP, but Surrey itself is unique as an RCMP detachment. It is far and away the largest in the country and is among the most urban environments that the national force polices.

As such, it is a training ground and a place for experiments. The precinct system, with a large number of officers stationed in specific parts of the city, has worked very well and police-citizen relationships have improved as a result.

MacRae has also been aware of the historic role the RCMP play in the city. Last year, he was an instrumental figure in organizing the special parade and ceremonies marking the Mounties’ 60 years of policing Surrey. The level of public interest in this was proof that many members of the community have a high regard for the RCMP.

One of the things that I have liked most about MacRae is his willingness to think things out a little differently. The RCMP, as a semi-military force going back to 1873, has many traditions, most of which are good. However, some of the ways it does business need to be improved – something MacRae would agree with.

He is the kind of individual who is not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water, but rather do everything he can to make that baby healthy and alert. He wants the RCMP to get better, and under his leadership in Surrey, it has.

The RCMP needs leaders like MacRae among its top officers, and his retirement will be keenly felt not only within the ranks of Surrey RCMP, but within the force as a whole.

He is leaving Surrey RCMP, and the city of Surrey, is better shape than when he came. That’s the mark of a good leader.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.