COLUMN: More to curbing crime than switching forces

COLUMN: More to curbing crime than switching forces

One benefit of municipal police is most members stay in the community, says columnist Frank Bucholtz

Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum has promised that one of the first acts of the new council will be starting the process of dropping the RCMP as Surrey’s police force.

READ MORE: Surrey’s mayor-elect McCallum has big promises to keep

The national police force has provided local policing in Surrey since 1951. It would be replaced by a municipal force, similar to police forces in Delta, Vancouver and Abbotsford.

The idea is popular with citizens and is one of the reasons McCallum and seven Safe Surrey Coalition members were elected to council. Surrey residents are fed up with crime – in particular gang violence, which includes drive-by shootings and the murders of innocent people. Despite the formation of integrated units such as IHIT (Integrated Homicide investigative Team), which involve both RCMP and municipal police members, these crimes seem to be almost impossible to solve.

The perpetrators continue to commit more crimes, and the only way they are stopped is when they are killed by rival gang members. Then others step up to take their places. Arrests and cases which make it all the way through the court system seem to be rare.

The uniform worn by Surrey police won’t make much of a dent in such activity. Slowing down gang activity requires a multi-pronged approach. It starts in the home, and parents must be vigilant about what their children are doing. Schools play a role, too.

Programs such as the Wrap program will help make a difference for some, but they are underfunded and get little support from the community on an ongoing basis. Access to sports and recreation is also important. Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill had a good idea in suggesting free entrance to recreation centres for young people. The newly-elected council should consider it.

Surrey RCMP has generally done an adequate job in policing Surrey, but the detachment has been understaffed for decades. The RCMP management approach has, at times, made things worse. Because the Surrey detachment is so much larger than any other municipal detachment, many of its members are new recruits, straight from Depot in Regina. They gain valuable experience in Surrey, but many move on to other detachments and the revolving door continues.

The RCMP also call members from various detachments to perform national policing duties when warranted – for example, at the 2010 Olympics, or when there is a major gathering of world leaders – when increased security is necessary. That’s one reason that Surrey taxpayers pay about 90 per cent of the cost of each member – they do not get 100 per cent of their time.

It is ironic that current Surrey RCMP commanding officer, Assistant Cmsr. Dwayne McDonald, is a Surrey native. To the best of my knowledge, he is the first Surrey native to ever hold this position.

Many RCMP officers have grown up in Surrey, and many make it back here, even if they don’t stay. One of the benefits of a municipal force is that most of its members will stay here and get to know the city, no matter where they are from.

The process of leaving the RCMP and setting up a municipal force will be lengthy. Two years notice is required and provincial permission is also required. There may be a Surrey police force when the next election rolls around in 2022 – or it may still be a work in progress.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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