The new mayor of Surrey expects his city will shed its reliance on the RCMP within two years in favour of its own newly created municipal force that will recruit from the current RCMP ranks as well as officers from neighbouring municipalities.
Mayor Doug McCallum was sworn in on Monday evening, and moments after the ceremony his new council voted to cut ties with the RCMP, saying a Surrey municipal force will improve policing services in British Columbia’s second-largest city. The vote sets the stage for ending the contractual arrangement with the federal police that has been in place since 1951.
A new Surrey force was a key promise of Mr. McCallum’s return to the mayor’s chair, a job he had held for nine years until 2005. His Safe Surrey Coalition won seven of eight council seats.
“It is fast, but we’re on a fast track,” Mr. McCallum said following a council meeting during which new members also voted to scrap a fully funded light-rail transit system, and began planning for an extension of the SkyTrain system.
“We feel fairly confident we can get our full force up in two years.”
Law enforcement in the Vancouver region is a mix of municipal forces and the RCMP, which polices Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby and North Vancouver.
A recent Globe and Mail investigation into the RCMP’s municipal policing revealed that jurisdictions using the Mounties offered significant savings for taxpayers, but the discount appeared to come at a price. Data from 21 B.C. jurisdictions showed that RCMP forces had disproportionately low staffing levels, with officers carrying significantly higher caseloads. The Globe’s analysis also found that crime rates tended to be higher in jurisdictions policed by the RCMP rather than municipal forces.
In Surrey, The Globe’s analysis found policing costs per capita were well below municipal departments in places such as Vancouver. Surrey officers also carried higher caseloads than those in Vancouver.
The most recent debate over the Surrey RCMP’s future comes as the city once again grapples with a wave of high-profile killings, including those of a minor-league hockey coach and two teens.
Mr. McCallum said he expects a Surrey police officer would earn 10 to 20 per cent more than individual Mounties, but he noted the RCMP are in the midst of unionizing so salary costs would likely increase for them, too.
The new mayor also said he expects that 50-to-60 per cent of the current crew of officers with the RCMP in Surrey would stick around to work in the new force. He said that the Justice Institute facility in B.C., which trains officers, could “ramp up” to produce needed police.
The mayor also said he is betting that officers working in other regions – notably West Vancouver and Vancouver – but who live in Surrey, might be drawn to the new force in order to be closer to home.
Asked how he knew officers in West Vancouver would be interested, Mr. McCallum said, “They have been talking to us.”
According to the RCMP, there are currently 835 officers working in Surrey.
Assistant RCMP Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, commander for the Mounties in Surrey, said the force’s relationship with the city is based on a contract.
“The municipality is within their right to enact the opting-out clause,” Mr. McDonald said after the mayor’s news conference.
“In the interim, we remain the contracted police force. Our service delivery won’t suffer. Our commitment to public safety for the City of Surrey remains as high as it has always been. We will continue to do our jobs.”