The voice for almost 20,000 RCMP says its members should not be used as “political pawns” in the dispute between the British Columbia government and the City of Surrey over its policing situation.
Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, writes in an open letter to Premier David Eby that the government’s lack of funding has led to staff shortages and it’s unfair to blame the Mounties for not filling their vacancies.
The staffing vacancies were a key reason the B.C. government had recommended the City of Surrey continue its transition to an independent police force, despite the newly-elected mayor’s promise that the city would go back to the RCMP for its policing.
The provincial government is expected to announce its decision Wednesday on whether Surrey will be allowed to abandon its transition to a municipal police force and revert to RCMP.
Sauvé says in the letter that Eby’s recent attention toward RCMP recruiting is “valid and even appreciated,” and the Mounties have seen no shortage of experienced police officers wanting to join. He says the province hasn’t properly funded the growth of the RCMP and last year’s $230-million commitment to hire 277 more officers still leaves B.C. short 242 officers from the fully authorized strength of 2,602 Mounties.
The letter says B.C. hasn’t increased its authorized police strength since 2012, despite ongoing population increases, creating an environment where fewer officers must serve more people.
“We ask all leaders to please remember that our RCMP Members are not political pawns and should not be used as scapegoats for over a decade of provincial underfunding of the B.C. RCMP or shifted around on a policing chessboard with no say in their positions and postings.
“Our Members serve their communities every day, put their lives on the line, have families and children rooted in those communities, and should be treated as people, not uniforms,” the letter says.
Attorney General Mike Farnworth has said part of the government’s recommendation for the city to continue its transition to the Surrey Policing Service (SPS) was a safety issue, as he cited 1,500 staff vacancies across the province.
Sauvé’s letter says RCMP recruitment is recovering from the pandemic slowdown and has had an average of 220 applications a month from B.C. over the past five months. It says there is also interest from experienced police officers joining the Mounties, with more than 80 new RCMP officers in B.C., with many more in training.
That letter comes as the City of Surrey offers a one-time bonus to a limited number of SPS officers who want to switch over to the Surrey RCMP detachment.
Global News has learned that the City of Surrey Stabilization Allowance Program launched Monday, providing a $10,000-payment to up to 150 SPS officers who accept an RCMP position in the first two months of the four-month initiative.
“Any current SPS officer that has accepted an offer of employment with the Surrey RCMP and who has resigned their employment with the SPS is eligible for the one time allowance,” reads a document shared with Global News. “If you have already resigned from the SPS you are not eligible for the allowance.”
The program is meant to support SPS officers and their families in the employment transition, expedite the move to the RCMP, and recognize their commitment to the communities of Surrey, it reads.
In an emailed statement, Terry Waterhouse, general manager of the municipality’s community services, said the “ongoing service” of SPS officers is appreciated.
“Many members have relocated to our community or faced other expenses. For those that want to stay in Surrey and join the Surrey RCMP this allowance will help cover some of the costs they may incur as part of their transition of employment and recognize their commitment to Surrey,” he wrote.
In a Monday interview, Surrey Police Union spokesperson Ryan Buhrig said the bonus campaign is “very strange,” especially given its proximity to Farnworth’s announcement on Wednesday.
“It’s strange to me that you have a municipal government funding recruiting for a federal agency. That seems quite odd and concerning at the same time,” he said.
“The mayor and the Surrey RCMP have said that there’s 81 Surrey police members wanting to join. We dispute those numbers and we think this validates our position because if you had 81 members looking to join, why would you be offering this financial bonus days before the decision by the minister?”
Buhrig said he doesn’t expect many SPS officers will make a “career decision” over an offer of $10,000.
— with files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey
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