‘I will not politicize this’: B.C. RCMP head will respect decision on future of Surrey police

Click to play video: 'RCMP will ‘respect’ City of Surrey’s decision on future of municipal policing'
RCMP will ‘respect’ City of Surrey’s decision on future of municipal policing
The head of the RCMP in B.C., Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, said Fri. April 28, 2023, that the Mounties will respect whatever decision the City of Surrey makes about the future of policing within its borders. His comments come after a provincial recommendation to phase out the RCMP and complete a transition to the new Surrey Police Service – Apr 28, 2023

The Mounties will respect whatever decision the City of Surrey and province agree upon when it comes to the future of policing in the municipality, the head of the B.C. RCMP said Friday.

After a months-long wait, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth revealed the government’s recommendation that Surrey phase out the RCMP, and implement the fledgling Surrey Police Service (SPS) as its force of jurisdiction.

“While all of us had hoped for definitive clarity on this issue today it appears we’re going to have to wait a while longer,” Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, officer in charge of the Surrey RCMP, said in a press conference.

“I will not politicize this decision. The RCMP will respect and await direction on the way forward.”

Story continues below advertisement

As news of the province’s recommendation reached ears across the Lower Mainland, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke quickly doubled-down on her election promise to keep the RCMP in Surrey, casting aside the recommendation in a report of nearly 150 pages from B.C.’s director of police services.

McDonald said Friday’s news is certain to bring out the RCMP’s critics and supporters, but he urged B.C. officers to continue performing their duties with pride.

“You will hear, as I’m sure you already have, both positive and negative voices, armchair quarterbacks, pundits, self-proclaimed experts,” he said.

“I urge you as you have done for the last four, almost five years, do not be distracted, know that you are valued, you are supported and you are beloved. Your service and sacrifice to this city and this province is second to none.”

Click to play video: 'Reaction pours in as B.C. government recommends Surrey Police Service transition'
Reaction pours in as B.C. government recommends Surrey Police Service transition

The SPS did not grant interviews on Friday, but issued a statement applauding Farnworth’s “comprehensive and evidence-based recommendation,” and endorsement of the force.

Story continues below advertisement

“This is a rare opportunity to build a police service that is rooted in the principles, values and realities of today’s world, and a chance to redefine policing for Surrey,” spokesperson Ian MacDonald said.

“It is my hope that council will recognize that now is the time to continue with this significant change in their policing model that will bring progressive and effective policing to the city for future generations.”

Click to play video: 'Former mayor Doug McCallum welcomes recommendation to keep Surrey Police Service'
Former mayor Doug McCallum welcomes recommendation to keep Surrey Police Service

As it stands, the SPS has 400 employees, including 62 civilian staff and 338 officers. It provides 50 per cent of all frontline policing services in the city of more than 560,000 people.

The municipal police force, birthed from an election promise of Surrey’s previous mayor and council, would need to hire at least 400 more officers to meet the city’s policing needs.

Story continues below advertisement

The provincial Policing and Security Branch estimates it could take another three years for the SPS to hire enough officers to act as a “standalone” police force in Surrey, without destabilizing policing services in the city.

Friday’s recommendation from the director of police services states that the RCMP needs a minimum of 734 officers to meet Surrey’s needs, and if it remains the police of jurisdiction, it will need to hire at least 161 additional officers. The Surrey RCMP have lost about 140 members since the SPS kicked off.

There are currently a little over 1,500 RCMP vacancies across the province. Farnworth said Friday that keeping the RCMP in Surrey could make the Mounties’ recruiting challenge worse, and an SPS transition is “safer for all regions of the province.”

“When someone calls 911 they need to know that a police officer will be there to help. Now is not the time to put policing levels at risk in any community, in Surrey or anywhere else in B.C.,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke says the current council’s decision on keeping the RCMP ‘hasn’t changed’'
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke says the current council’s decision on keeping the RCMP ‘hasn’t changed’

McDonald said it’s important for the public to understand the “context” around the 1,500 vacancies. Most of them are what the Mounties call “soft vacancies,” which means they cannot be filled as the officers that hold them are on sick leave, parental leave, vacation, or unpaid leave.

Story continues below advertisement

“That leaves roughly 518 hard vacancies. These are vacancies historically that have been unfunded,” he explained. “As you all know the province has recently announced an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars to assist us in filling those vacancies in the next three years.”

McDonald said he is confident that should the RCMP be selected to lead policing in Surrey, it will deliver on its public safety mandate.

“We have a robust plan, whether its recruiting, whether it’s staffing, whether it’s deployments, etcetera. We have never failed to deliver adequate and effective policing in British Columbia.”

Click to play video: 'Former Surrey mayor calls news of policing recommendation ‘a great decision’ '
Former Surrey mayor calls news of policing recommendation ‘a great decision’ 

According to the B.C. RCMP, violence in Surrey has been on a downward trend for 11 years. In the first quarter of this year, violent crime decreased 14 per cent, while overall crime decreased seven per cent.

Story continues below advertisement

Experienced police officers are welcome to join the RCMP, keeping their rank and leave entitlements, he added. They will not have to undergo the RCMP’s six-month cadet training program, and while they may be some financial impact, they can import their pensions too, he said.

A transition to the SPS at this stage would cost $235 million and $30 million more per year than the RCMP, according to City of Surrey estimates. In its submissions to the provincial government, however, the municipality failed to include sufficient detail on how the SPS would be dissolved and what the human resources impact would be, leading the director of police services to conclude that it likely underestimated the costs of a complete reversal to keep the RCMP.

The report to Farnworth also found that the City of Surrey did not identify strategies to make sure the SPS remained intact as it completed its transition back to the RCMP, meaning that if SPS officers quit or took leave, it could leave a problematic void in policing services in Surrey.

Click to play video: '‘People want the RCMP to remain in Surrey’: Mayor Brenda Locke says'
‘People want the RCMP to remain in Surrey’: Mayor Brenda Locke says

The SPS, meanwhile, said it is clear across Canada that citizens want “policing done differently,” with more “compassion and trauma-informed practice, and less reliance on use of force.”

Story continues below advertisement

“At SPS we are seeking to go beyond the status quo of policing as we find new approaches and solutions to public safety,” MacDonald said.

“SPS is fully prepared and equipped to ensure safe, effective, and exceptional policing to for Surrey, and we hope to have the opportunity to provide that to the residents and businesses of Surrey.”

Sponsored content