The B.C. government is stepping in to take control of the City of Surrey’s transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced plans on Thursday to refresh the transition plan with former attorney general Wally Oppal appointed to oversee the work.
The province has green-lit the transition contingent on Oppal’s recommendations.
“To ensure all key issues are addressed and all complex details are in place to facilitate an orderly transition, a joint project team has been struck,” a joint statement from Farnworth and Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum reads.
WATCH: Farnworth explains joint task force for Surrey police transition
“The joint transition committee, chaired by the Hon. Wally Oppal, will work expeditiously to provide advice to the Director of Police Services through to the Solicitor General relating to the establishment of Surrey’s municipal police department.”
Farnworth has previously raised concerns over the City of Surrey’s transition report, which found a new municipal police force in the city would cost 10.9 per cent more than the RCMP.
On Thursday, Farnworth says the province ‘respects’ Surrey’s decision to want municipal force but that the change is something that requires ‘substantial work’. The provincial government says before any other steps are taken to move towards a municipal police force all safety concerns must be addressed.
The transition team committee will consist of Oppal, staff from the city of Surrey, staff from the province and experts.
WATCH (May 23): Surrey residents get first chance to comment on city police force
“The transition committee will provide advise to the director of police services at each stage of the process,” Farnworth said.
The province has ruled out having a referendum in Surrey over the future of the community’s police force.
The City of Surrey, and especially McCallum, has been criticized for a lack of public consultation and a botched transition report. A petition opposing the transition has close to 25,000 signatures.
Coun. Linda Annis, the only councillor not elected as part of McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, said in a statement Thursday she’s disappointed the province hasn’t opened up another round of public discussion.
“I am hopeful the task force that has been set up will drill down into the details of the proposed new police department and will provide some mechanism for Surrey voters and taxpayers to be heard in a serious way, something that has been missing so far,” Annis said.
Three Surrey city councillors have left McCallum’s coalition in recent months over concerns associated with the transition.
Coun. Brenda Locke, one of the now independent councillors, says the Surrey police transition report proposed a plan that would cut the police mental health and outreach team in half.
WATCH (June 3): New information on Surrey’s transition from RCMP to municipal police
The report recommends the mental health team be reduced from 21 officers and four psychiatric nurses to 11 officers. The report also says the new municipal police force will work with community partners to provide those services.
Coun. Jack Hundial, another councillor who left the Safe Surrey Coalition, raised concerns that if the city switches to a municipal police force, it would see a decrease in the number of officers on the ground.
Hundial said Surrey still needs 30 new police officers to accommodate its growth in population.
He pointed to a segment of the report that states it is acceptable for the new force to have just 80 per cent of its authorized strength the day it begins operations.
“Roughly 80 per cent of all Surrey PD patrol officers (sergeants and constables) should be hired, trained and deployable by the transition date,” reads the report. “This means that most patrol districts will be operating in the short term at 80 per cent of their authorized strength.
“As noted previously, this is a first approximation. This initial staffing level is acceptable and will not compromise deployment levels or negatively impact public safety.”
—With files from Sean Boynton, Janet Brown, Simon Little and Jon Azpiri