As Surrey residents decide to vote for their next mayor and the city council, housing, transport and policing remain top concerns. Mayoral candidates and their respective slates have made different promises in terms of infrastructure development and housing. But when it comes to policing transition from RCMP to Surrey Police Service (SPS), can any party reverse or stop the transition? Surrey Police Union president Rick Stewart says, “Three levels of government are safely and impartially guiding the transition – it is certainly not the ‘pet project’ of any one politician.”
Stewart recently penned down two separate letters to residents of the city and to various media organizations to explain how the transition is underway and claimed that “it is well past the point of no return.”
The letter was in response to recent claims made by Surrey Connect Leader and mayoral candidate Brenda Locke. In a release she said that policy of keeping the RCMP will save Surrey $520 million over the next 4 years.
Stewart called the claims “erroneous”, “false” based on “unfounded information.
Without naming the party or the candidate, he refuted claims about RCMP being more cost effective, he said, “Any suggestion that Surrey can save half a billion dollars over four years in policing costs clearly indicates that those making these statements are not familiar with how police finances work for either independent or contracted services.”
He noted, “She ignored the fact that the RCMP also requires capital expenditures and neglected to consider RCMP wage increases. These are but a few examples of the erroneous assumptions that were not sourced in any meaningful way or fact-checked. RCMP also requires capital expenditures and neglected to consider RCMP wage increases.”
“The common reason the RCMP is considered ‘cheaper’ is the well-known “10% subsidy” for municipalities. This subsidy is more than offset by other divisional administrative billed to Surrey that Surrey has zero control over. For our city, the amount is in the range of $20M, more than the 10% subsidy. In addition, the RCMP has the right to redeploy up to 10% of members to provincial and federal policing priorities, which means they are not working in Surrey, for Surrey residents and businesses,” he said.
Mentioning benefits of community policing he said, “A municipal police service comes with civilian oversight, increased public accountability, and considerably more transparency. If municipal policing was so outrageously expensive compared to the RCMP, why wouldn’t every major city in Canada not be contracting this service out?”
Locke also claimed “It’s not too late to keep the RCMP, and it’s not too late to transition the SPS out. There is no legal mechanism in place for transfer of assets or a termination date for the RCMP,” she said.
Stewart in response said that Surrey Police Transition is not a recent or small project that just started. He said, “The decision to transition policing in Surrey from the RCMP to SPS began four years ago. It was approved by the Province of BC and is well underway. Today, SPS is the second largest municipal police agency in BC, with over 350 sworn and civilian employees. Our members have a collective agreement that provides them with job security and appropriate compensation, just like every other police service. Phase one of the policing transition began in November 2021 with the operational deployment of our first group of officers. Today we have over 150 officers responding to calls for service in Surrey and working to keep residents safe, with more officers being deployed every two months. Three levels of government are safely and impartially guiding the transition – it is certainly not the ‘pet project’ of any one politician. SPS itself is an independent police agency governed by a civilian police board.”
Some other points that made a strong case for Surrey police were that all large Canadian cities have and need their own local police service and no other municipality in Canada with over 300,000 residents that does not have a dedicated police service, Surrey residents are currently under-served by the RCMP.
Much has been made about the 10% subsidy Surrey receives from the federal government for contracting the RCMP. While it may seem like a great deal for taxpayers, it comes with conditions, Stewart said. “The quid pro quo is the RCMP can redeploy Surrey officers to meet needs elsewhere in BC or across the country – from trucker protests in Alberta and Ontario, to security detail for visiting dignitaries, to providing vacation relief to RCMP members in isolated postings. The bottom line is that, at any given time, there can be 10% fewer resources serving the citizens of Surrey. Surrey residents must also put up with regular staffing changes and vacancies as RCMP members move from city to city and province to province over their careers. Alternatively, the vast majority of SPS officers will spend their entire careers serving the citizens of Surrey. We are committed to ensuring SPS is appropriately staffed for Surrey’s needs and the safety of our officers.”
Surrey Police Union also shared a link of the contract to evaluate SPS as police of jurisdiction. Completion is March 31, 2023. “Some falsely claim that the policing transition is ‘years away’ – incorrect,” said Surrey Police Union.
He appealed to public that Surrey has a growing new police service made up of individuals who have chosen to serve Surrey. “They are working hard to create a modern police service that will be responsive to the priorities and needs of Surrey citizens.”