Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.
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By Curt Taylor Griffiths
As a member of the Provincial Municipal Policing Transition Study Committee, which created the transition plan for the new City of Surrey Police Department, I feel compelled to respond to several assertions made by Peter German in the media, including in the June 11th issue of the Now-Leader.
German argues that the quality of policing will not improve with the transition from RCMP to a municipal police force. It will. The Surrey Police Department will deliver policing services within a community policing framework that is best practice and evidence based. It will be flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of one of Canada’s most dynamic communities. The delivery of policing services will be decentralized, focusing on the communities of South Surrey, Cloverdale, Newton, Fleetwood/Guildford, and City Centre/Whalley. Officers will assume ownership of the districts.
German states that the Surrey RCMP has 843 officers. This figure includes vacancies and officers on secondment to specialized units. The actual strength of the detachment is 792 and the number of deployable officers is fewer than that. The new SPD will have 805 officers, the majority of whom will be involved in front line service. Compared to the current deployment of RCMP officers in Surrey, there will be 16 per cent more uniformed SPD officers on the street.
German raises the issue of increased salary costs associated with the new SPD. The collective agreement that will be negotiated between the RCMP union and the federal government is likely to include a provision that RCMP officers in B.C. have wage parity with their municipal counterparts. This would result in a 20 per cent wage increase for RCMP members. Notably, RCMP-policed municipalities will not be at the bargaining table, but will get the invoice. If wage parity is achieved, the costs of RCMP contract policing and municipal policing will be similar, even with the 10 per cent federal subsidy for RCMP.
German asserts that training the new members of the SPD will be a problem. It will not. The transition plan calls for 68 new recruits to be hired and trained over a two-year period at the Police Academy at the Justice Institute of B.C. The staff at the academy assured the transition committee that this number can be accommodated. The remaining hires will be officers who are currently in service. Although there has not been a formal survey of in-service officers, anecdotal evidence suggests that the SPD will be successful in hiring currently serving officers from other police services, including the RCMP. The transition plan calls for a gradual change-over from RCMP to municipal, with SPD members replacing RCMP officers over a period of time.
German raises the issue of community safety, arguing that criminals will have a “field day” during the transition. Unlikely. The graduated transition plan will ensure the department is fully staffed at all times. Protocols have also been established for investigative file continuity during the transition.
In German’s view, municipal police services do not create a greater sense of identity. They do. In contrast to their RCMP counterparts, municipal police officers generally spend their entire careers in one community. This facilitates ownership and partnerships. The SPD will be able to recruit a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community, an impossibility in an RCMP detachment where personnel decisions are not made at the local level. The arrival and departure of officers and the Officer in Command of the detachment is determined by the organizational needs of the RCMP rather than by those of the municipality.
The men and women of the RCMP who have policed the city for the past 70 years have served admirably. However, Surrey has outgrown the RCMP model. It was the last municipality in Canada with over 350,000 residents without an independent police service. The City of Surrey had its own police service from 1887 to 1951. In many ways, it is returning to its roots.
Curt Taylor Griffiths is a professor and co-ordinator of the Police Studies Program, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University.