COLUMN: Surrrey policing announcement puts end to uncertainty, but not to controversy

Surrey Police will be the city’s new police force, replacing Surrey RCMP.

The announcement was made Feb. 27 by Solicitor Gen. Mike Farnworth and Mayor Doug McCallum, and it ends the uncertainty that has hung over city policing for 16 months. However, it is not likely to end the political controversy.

The announcement quickly followed an update on the policing transition by former B.C. Supreme Court judge and attorney-general Wally Oppal. This was given to Surrey Board of Trade’s breakfast meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Oppal had been asked by Farnworth to oversee the transition committee set up by city hall and submit a report back – which he did.

In his remarks to the board of trade, Oppal said he had submitted a 450-page report to the province, which (24 hours later) made the ultimate decision. He refused to get involved in the political controversy, but did say that Surrey residents have shown a keen interest in the transition. For those who still have concerns, he had some advice – “keep after them is all I can say.”

That is a certainty. There is no shortage of residents who oppose the new civic police force and want the matter to go to referendum. Their target now will be the six NDP MLAs who represent Surrey ridings. The pressure they apply will not be insignificant, as the six Surrey MLAs are crucial to the NDP’s hold on power. The government’s decision to permit ride-hailing, and now to approve the Surrey Police, will not be popular with all NDP supporters.

It is important to consider the facts, as we know them, to this point. The transition report calls for a reduction in police officers. The cost per officer will be higher as municipal police officers are higher-paid than their RCMP counterparts. McCallum pointed out that RCMP wages will be going up due to unionization, and that is almost certainly correct. Surrey has been underserved by police for years, due to council not hiring enough RCMP officers, and that won’t soon change.

It is likely that many Surrey RCMP officers will transfer to the new force. This will be due to their familiarity with the job, and higher wages. They will have to decide if it is worth their while in terms of their pension plans. Those who do not transfer will get jobs in other arms of the RCMP. The Justice Institute is prepared to train more officers to supply the new Surrey force with new recruits.

The city has a top-quality police building and the civilian staff are almost certain to transfer over to the new force, as they are municipal employees. At least in the interim, Surrey Police will be part of integrated squads such as the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

There will be a police board with McCallum, one other councillor and five others appointed by the province. That number can be increased to nine.

Surrey RCMP have done a good job.There is no doubt about that. There has been a call for a city police force for some time. Now it will come about. It will be costly and taxes will go up by higher percentages than in other cities in the next few years.

In last week’s column, I mentioned that former White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin was part of the White Rock Coalition slate. That is incorrect – he was elected to his last term in 2014 as an independent.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.


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