The B.C. government has approved Surrey’s transition away from its contract with the RCMP to form its own municipal force.
But in an effort to ensure some of the gaps in Surrey’s plan are filled, the province has appointed a new joint municipal-provincial committee named by the province and chaired by former attorney-general Wally Oppal.
Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth announced the support Thursday, stating the provincial government will pay for the work of the transition advisory group made up of staff from his ministry, City of Surrey staff and policing experts. This group, which has not yet been named, will work on the parts of Surrey’s transition plan that were not fully developed – namely IT and human-resources issues – with an aim toward meeting Surrey’s deadline of April of 2021 to complete this historic shift.
“They understand policing, they understand the issues involved and [meeting that deadline] will be the committee’s job,” Mr. Farnworth said at a news conference in downtown Vancouver Thursday. “We know that the RCMP in Surrey have done a terrific job and will continue to do a terrific job and that this process that’s been put in place is designed to ensure that we have as smooth a transition as possible.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum was unavailable to return The Globe and Mail’s request for comment Thursday, but signed a joint media statement with Mr. Farnworth announcing the move. Mr. McCallum successfully campaigned last fall on a promise to replace the RCMP with an independent force and in May announced that he is open to public input to tweak the transition plan.
Last month, a third councillor in his political coalition that won seven of eight city council seats quit, citing concerns about this policing plan.
The RCMP have policed Surrey since the 1950s, but the Mayor has argued that a municipal force would be more accountable to residents and lead to better policing.
Mr. Oppal said in a conference call on Thursday that the task ahead of the committee is extremely complex and includes helping Surrey complete the following tasks: putting in place a robust system to manage information and communications, creating a comprehensive recruitment and training plan, crafting a collective agreement with the new police officers, establishing a pension plan for these members and working out a process for existing Mounties who join the force to transfer their old pensions.
“We don’t want to make any mistakes and this is very serious work,” said Mr. Oppal, a former provincial judge and politician. “It’s not easy establishing a police force after we’ve had one police force in place for so many years.”
He added that the first major milestone of the transition will be the establishment of a civilian-led police board, an oversight body that needs to be created through provincial legislation.
A report released by the city in June estimated the operating cost for a municipal police force would be $192.5-million dollars in 2021 – about 11 per cent more than the current RCMP contract – and would fund 805 officers. An RCMP spokeswoman has said the Surrey detachment has 843 officers, a number Mr. McCallum disputes.
The city’s report estimated the move to a municipal force would also require one-time capital and transition costs of $39.2-million to cover administration, recruiting, equipment and other details. It stated the costs could be spread over four years at about $10-million annually.
Mr. Farnworth says the province will fund the team examining the split, but Surrey taxpayers would have to pay any other costs related to the transition and funding of a municipal department.
With a report from The Canadian Press