COLUMN: SkyTrain shooting brings Surrey policing discussion to forefront

Policing in Surrey has become an even hotter topic than it was just a few weeks ago.

Last Wednesday (Jan. 30), a Transit Police officer was shot on the platform at Scott Road SkyTrain station.

This led to an all-out hunt for the suspect, which ended Sunday, when he was arrested in Burnaby. People in the Bridgeview area were most impacted by the hunt, and were pleased with the quick response and massive Surrey RCMP presence.

Thankfully, Transit Police Const. Josh Harms was not seriously injured and is already on the mend. Surrey RCMP’s initial response and overall handling of this serious situation was flawless, and the force deserves the thanks of the public.

A day earlier, Surrey Board of Trade held a forum on policing in Surrey, focusing specifically on the city’s plans to change from an RCMP detachment to a city police force. The event turned out to be somewhat one-sided, as no members of the Safe Surrey Coalition (which holds eight of nine seats on council) attended, and most speakers expressed concerns about the transition.

Nor were any updates offered by Terry Waterhouse, the city staff member who is overseeing the transition. If any plans have been put together thus far, they remain a mystery to the public.

Bob Rolls, former Vancouver Police deputy chief who helped put together a plan for Richmond to leave the RCMP behind (a decision the city stepped back from) said a transition to a city force is “completely achievable,” but it requires a comprehensive plan and early recruitment of officers. The force is expected to have at least 850 officers at the start. He acknowledged that the public have many concerns over gang activities in Surrey, something that was not the case in Richmond.

Former solicitor general Kash Heed, who is a past West Vancouver police chief, said any shift to a city force requires provincial backing, something that he said has been missing thus far.

The most scathing criticism came from Fraser MacRae, who was the officer in charge of Surrey RCMP for eight years. He was an effective commander, very well-connected to the community and never afraid to offer honest opinions, in his days as the local chief.

MacRae said, despite suggestions to the contrary, many Surrey RCMP members will not make the transition to a municipal force. This is due to a variety of factors, but the lack of portability of the pension plan is an important one. He said the need to hire at least 400 new officers would have a significant impact on other police forces in the region and the province may not approve any transition because of that.

MacRae said Surrey RCMP’s operational plans are made by local commanders and not in Ottawa. He said the city can have a police board and much more oversight of Surrey RCMP if it wishes to, and most importantly, he said Surrey RCMP has been “under-resourced” for years. Many of the public concerns about the RCMP stem from the decisions made by a succession of councils to not hire enough police officers.

All the speakers emphasized the importance of having a good plan in place, and of consulting with the public.

Mike Larsen, chair of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s criminology department, said transparency and accountability are essential in drawing up a plan for a new police force. Rolls said more forums like the one put on by the Board of Trade are a necessary part of the process.

Safe Surrey Coalition members may think they will get all the answers they need inside city hall, but most of those in attendance have serious doubts.

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

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