British Columbia’s second-largest city is on track to get a new police force by next year despite risks cited in a recent report, says former B.C. attorney-general Wally Oppal, one of the leaders of the study.
This week, the province released a heavily redacted report on issues around replacing the RCMP with a new municipal police force by April, 2021. It flagged financial risks and whether officers could be trained quickly enough.
The report, prepared by a municipal-provincial committee chaired by Mr. Oppal, says the police board for the new force will also have to reach agreements with other agencies, including the province and an expected police union.
“There is an external risk that other agencies will not be well positioned to complete the necessary work and reach agreements with the [new police] board to ensure an orderly transition,” the report says.
Surrey, southeast of Vancouver, plans to replace the RCMP with a new municipal police force to enact a commitment Mayor Doug McCallum and council allies made in the 2018 municipal election campaign. They said a new force administered by Surrey would be more responsive to the needs of the city – the fastest-growing community in British Columbia.
Money has always been a concern. Planners in Surrey have suggested the new force will cost $20-million more than the RCMP in 2021, boosting the policing bill to $192-million. That would allow for 805 officers, less than the current force.
“Additional risks relate to financial factors and the ability of the city and the board to fund the necessary work to complete an orderly transition,” the report says.
It also raises concerns about whether the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), a postsecondary institution that trains public-safety workers, can handle the increase in trainees.
Mr. Oppal said in an interview on Wednesday that the risks can be managed, and were included in the report because the committee felt it should cover all possible scenarios for the municipality and the province to consider.
“I am pretty optimistic that [the transition] will go ahead,” Mr. Oppal said.
"We’re building a police force from the ground up. There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved. You always have to make sure that the decision makers know that this is not exactly always a slam dunk,” he said.
Mr. Oppal said the justice institute is prepared to add staff for training.
Stuart Ruttan, a dean at the justice institute, said in a statement on Wednesday that the JIBC is working with the province and Surrey to meet the increase in demand.
“The JIBC Police Academy has developed an approach to accommodate the short- to medium-term spike in recruit-training requirements for the new Surrey Police Department and other municipal police departments,” Dr. Ruttan said.
Mr. Oppal said that Surrey has committed to spending the money required to launch the new force.
The committee was created last summer, and includes Surrey officials, representatives of the Solicitor-General’s ministry and independent experts.
Mr. Oppal also said he expects that reaching agreements with the related agencies will not be a significant problem.
Critics in Surrey, including the board of trade, have denounced the policing plan.
And in a statement on Wednesday, Surrey city councillor Linda Annis said the report does not answer some residents’ questions.
“The idea that we’re going to have a more expensive police force with fewer officers than we have today makes no sense,” she said. “Every available dollar in the city is being spent to give the mayor his new police department. Meanwhile, we’re not funding new officers, firefighters or parks, rinks and rec centres.”
Mr. McCallum was not available for comment on Wednesday, a city spokesperson said.
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