COLUMN: Policing report lacks discussion of divide among Surrey citizens

Oppal’s experience could have been a benefit in deeper discussion

The Surrey Policing Transition report produced by a committee under the direction of Wally Oppal is a masterful and detailed look at how to transition from Surrey RCMP to Surrey Police.

Oppal, former attorney general, former B.C. Supreme Court judge and a well-respected expert due to his grasp of many details of policing, certainly covered bases that needed covering. These include: recruitment, pensions and collective agreement, training, information management and information technology, investigative file continuity and business impacts.

All of these are essential if a new Surrey Police force is to have any chance of succeeding. It must have enough officers, they must be well-trained and they must be satisfied with their wages, pensions and working conditions. There also must be a proper approach to ensuring that case files do not fall through the cracks when the new police agency takes over from the RCMP. There must be top-notch information systems. There must also be a commitment to working on files in the regional context, as Surrey RCMP and most police agencies in the Lower Mainland already do.

Oppal’s report states: “The City of Surrey has long applied a best practices approach to addressing public safety priorities.”

This is certainly true of Surrey staff. They are professional and have been involved in many innovations to try and improve public safety.

Yet the report has a glaring omission. This may have been unavoidable, given the terms of reference laid down by Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. The report notes: “Other issues related to the establishment and operation of this department were outside the scope of this report.”

What’s missing? Simply this – any discussion of the deep divide among Surrey citizens over the need for this very expensive change, or of the dictatorial style of Mayor Doug McCallum in the months after the November, 2018 decision by council to move to a Surrey police department.

Had Oppal been given a fuller mandate, he could have made recommendations on how to bridge this political divide. He has the experience to do so, as a former judge and elected politician. This would have ensured that the establishment of this police force would be far less political.

Citizens who are dismayed about the way this whole transition has been managed thus far need to keep the pressure on the provincial government, and particularly on Farnworth and the six Surrey NDP MLAs. Pressure needs to come from those who oppose removing the RCMP from Surrey, as well as from those who favour a new Surrey Police, but deplore the politicization of the issue.

If the roll-out of the new department continues to be as highly political and divisive as it has been thus far, with no consultation of either citizens or of the four council members who now oppose the transition, the new police force will start doing business with an essential element missing – respect. Policing is built on trust. If that is missing, there will be little chance of Surrey Police succeeding.

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

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