COLUMN: Policing transition has to ‘rise above politics’

Solicitor Gen. Mike Farnworth used the wisdom of Solomon in approving Surrey’s plan to move to a new municipal police force, but taking control of the transition away from Surrey council.

The issue has proved to be hugely divisive in Surrey and has split council almost down the middle. Mayor Doug McCallum has a 5-4 margin of support at this point in time.

The deep divide is in stark contrast to eight months ago. All nine members of council agreed to move towards a municipal police force when the matter was put to a vote at the inaugural council meeting in November, as McCallum had promised during the election campaign.

Since that time, three members of the Safe Surrey Coalition who were elected to council have left to sit as independents. T

he police transition issue is the main reason that at least two, Brenda Locke and Jack Hundial, left. The lone Surrey First councillor, Linda Annis, voted in favour of moving towards a new Surrey Police force at the inaugural meeting, but since that time has been a vociferous critic.

The main reason for the divide is McCallum’s approach to the transition. He did not seek the input of councillors, even Hundial, a longtime member of Surrey RCMP, before commissioning the report by city staff. This lack of input into the policing report led to questions. Those who raised concerns have been left off a council committee overseeing the transition.

In short, McCallum has punished his enemies and rewarded his friends on council. This is all par for the course in politics, but this issue is a much more important and complex one than most issues that any council deals with.

Farnworth, who has long experience as both opposition critic and now minister responsible for public safety, obviously decided that the transition must rise above politics. He has appointed Wally Oppal, a well-respected former judge, head of the inquiry into missing and murdered women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and also former attorney-general for the BC Liberal government, to chair a new transition committee. It is made up of officials from both the province and Surrey, but it is clear that the province is driving the bus.

Farnworth made it clear there will be no referendum on the issue, but he also stressed that the committee will dig very deeply into all issues surrounding the transition. McCallum said at a news conference on Aug. 22 that he expects the new police force to start patrolling Surrey in April, 2021, but the minister made no such promises.

The issue is very complex. It is unclear just how much more the new police force will cost. The report submitted to Farnworth said policing with 805 members (38 fewer that the current strength of Surrey RCMP) would cost about 11 per cent more. Locke said in response to Farnworth’s announcement that taxpayers might have to pay as much as 40 per cent more.

No one has said where the new officers will come from. Some will undoubtedly transfer from Surrey RCMP or other municipal detachments, but it is quite likely that at least half could be new recruits. Can the Justice Institute train that many in less than two years?

Surrey residents will be watching this new committee’s deliberations very closely, but it is quite likely that most of them are breathing a sigh of relief. They are thankful that much of the politics has now been removed from the policing transition.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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