'Going to set the city back decades': Councillors, RCMP slam Surrey's police budget plan
SURREY, B.C. -- A decision not to increase the number of police officers in Surrey for a second year in a row would have a "detrimental effect," one of the city's top cops warns.
Surrey RCMP Assistant Comm. Dwayne McDonald made his opinion on council's draft budget vote Monday night known in an emailed statement sent to media the next morning.
City council voted 5-4 in support of a five-year draft budget that will see millions spent on a transition from RCMP to a municipal police force, but there's no money earmarked for new hires for RCMP or firefighters in the city.
Surrey's overall crime rate has been decreasing over the last decade, McDonald said, but without an increase in staff, the trend downward may be stopped. Scroll down to read his full statement.
Speaking after the initial vote, Mayor Doug McCallum insisted he has the support of his city.
"We will continue to listen to the people of Surrey and what they want to see in Surrey," he said. "We'll fight for them very, very hard in getting our own police force."
The mayor says he believes the best way to make Surrey more safe is to go ahead with the costly plan to scrap the RCMP and start fresh.
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But McDonald said if that final vote is split in a similar way, the city's decision not to expand the number of officers on Surrey streets will pull resources from programs that help prevent crime.
McDonald says his request for 12 new officers in 2019 was also denied.
According to McDonald, 2019 brought a three per cent increase in calls for service so far, which equates to an average of 463 additional calls per month.
There was also a 3.6 per cent increase in files, which means about 585 additional files per month.
Coun. Brenda Locke voted against the draft budget and also spoke out Tuesday.
"We are already so far behind the eight ball when it comes to all of our first responders and police. It is very scary," Locke told CTV News on Tuesday.
She also raised concerns about a lack of funding in other areas, including community programs.
"One of our best resources to stop crime in our city is to engage our youth when they are in a position and want to go out there and go to our sports fields, ice arenas, swimming pools. This city is woefully underserved in terms of our infrastructure," Locke said.
"This city is getting nothing out of this budget. There is zero in this budget for kids, families, seniors, people who are vulnerable."
Linda Annis, another city councillor who voted "no" to the draft budget, believes the hiring freeze will put stress on existing first responders and potentially put the public at risk.
"Firefighters are stretched to the limits. They are making call after call after call. As are the police," Annis said.
"The public can't expect the same response times they have come to be used to getting because there aren't enough officers to go around."
Mark McRae with the Surrey Firefighters Association said the fact that the budget is moving forward is "concerning."
"We’ve fallen behind. Not addressing those needs next year is just going to place us further behind in the coming years," said McRae. "We’ve only added two bodies, two firefighters on duty 24 hours a day in the last seven years, and during that timeframe we’ve seen exponential growth."
But the mayor said he has spoken with police and fire chiefs about the draft budget, and was told they can "maintain the safety of our community" with the current staffing level.
Coun. Laurie Guerra, who voted in favour of the budget along with the other remaining members of the mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition, said she does not feel there will be any impact to public safety next year, due to those same reassurances referenced by the mayor.
"I trust on their judgement. If they had come to us and said we absolutely, it’s vital that we have this many new firefighters, then I would have said, you know, I would have rethought that," Guerra said. "For the most part, the people that were opposed to this budget were very much opposed to it because they were not in favour of the transition from the RCMP to the municipal police force. And that is just - that’s something that I ran on."
Locke and Annis both fear the hiring freeze for first responders may extend beyond 2020.
"Every resource of this city is going to the police transition and we haven't had enough information back. So at this point I would say no, there would be no more firefighters in 2020, 2021 and the foreseeable future," Locke said.
Annis said the decision will be irreversible.
"Quite frankly I think it's going to set the city back decades."
In a press release, the Surrey Board of Trade said it planned to send a letter to BC’s Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and the opposition critic for that ministry, Mike Morris, to request a review of Surrey’s policing levels.
"This is important to Surrey’s city-building business organization because a continued lack of investments in police and fire services compromises businesses - and the expedient and efficient delivery of these services when needed," said the board’s CEO Anita Huberman in the statement.
Farnworth told CTV News Vancouver that municipal policing is a municipal responsibility, and the detachment and the city have to work together on what an appropriate level of policing is for that community.
The draft budget approved Monday still needs to be passed following a final reading later this month.
Given McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition holds the balance of power in city council, it is expected the draft budget will be fully approved.
Full statement from RCMP's McDonald
As Surrey's Mayor and Council move towards final adoption of a 2020 budget that does not allow for any additional police resources for the second year in a row, it is important that we acknowledge the detrimental effect this will have on our service delivery model and on the health and wellness of our members and municipal support staff.
The City of Surrey previously denied my request for 12 additional officers for 2019 and it was made clear to me that any additional requests for police resources would not be entertained while the city is petitioning the province for a municipal police service.
As our staffing levels remain stagnant and Surrey’s population increases, demand for our police service continues to grow. This year, the Surrey RCMP has experienced a 3% increase in calls for service and a 3.6% increase in files. These increases equate to an average of 463 more calls per month and 585 additional files per month. This disparity between resources and calls for service means we will have to review the services we provide. Unfortunately, this may necessitate the redeployment of personnel from proactive and community based programs, which we know have a positive impact on crime prevention, to our essential service, frontline policing.
As outlined in our ten-year crime profile, crime in Surrey has been trending downward since 2014, and the overall crime rate has been trending down over the last decade. In 2018, Surrey’s Violent Crime Severity Index reached a ten-year low. However, we are seeing some minor increases in crime this year and, in the long term, we cannot expect to see crime go down in a growing city without relative increases to police resources.
The Surrey RCMP is committed to public safety, but also to the safety and wellness of our officers and employees. The senior leadership team will continue to advocate for adequate resources, even as the City of Surrey and Province of BC work to determine the future of policing in Surrey.
I commend the Surrey RCMP police officers and support staff who have continued to provide excellent police services to the city during this challenging period. To the residents of Surrey, the safety of your homes, your families, and your neighbourhoods remains our top priority, as always.