Would a municipal police force make Surrey safer?
Published Wednesday, October 24, 2018 5:22PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 24, 2018 5:29PM PDT
Surrey's mayor-elect is adamant that he will deliver on his campaign pledge to replace the RCMP with a dedicated municipal police force, but critics of the plan are raising concerns about how much the transition would cost, how long it could take and if it would ultimately improve safety in a city plagued by gun violence.
"It will cost us a little bit more money for our police force, but the people of Surrey tell us very clearly they're willing to pay a little more to make their community safe," Doug McCallum told CTV News earlier this week.
McCallum cited the fact that the city already owns much of the equipment and infrastructure used by Mounties, including vehicles and community police stations, and staff with the Canadian Union of Public Employees already run much of the administrative side. The federal government, he added, only pays 10 per cent of police officers' salaries, while the city covers the other 90 per cent.
But another Metro Vancouver municipality that has considered such a transition said the move would likely cost more than just "a little bit more" and would be more complex than McCallum has made it out to be.
"We have one-third of the size of a detachment that Surrey has, so if it's going to cost us $19 million to $20 million dollars in transitional costs, how much is it going to cost Surrey?" said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who was re-elected Saturday.
Richmond considered moving to a city police force back in 2016, but ultimately decided the costs would be too high and the process too complicated.
In addition to the initial cost of the transition, the city would have had to pay an extra $2.2 million to $3.39 million more each year.
Brodie said the city would have also faced a one- to two-per-cent property tax hike in order to afford a municipal force.
Then there's the issue of timing.
Surrey has a contract with Mounties until 2032. The city can end the agreement early, but needs to give at least two years' notice and have the move approved by the province.
B.C.'s solicitor general has repeatedly stated that the move is a complicated one and Surrey must prove it has a viable law enforcement alternative.
"My responsibility as solicitor general is to ensure there is an effective policing model in place for Surrey and if Surrey does want to change, they need to have an alternative plan," General Mike Farnworth said Monday.
Public safety appears to be the main driver behind McCallum's push for a local force, but there's disagreement about whether the move would in fact lead to a reduction in crime or better enforcement.
Surrey had 12 murders last year. Charges were laid in only three cases through the RCMP's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.
Vancouver, which has a local force and the closest population to Surrey's, saw more violence at 19 homicides, but more cases were also solved: police laid charges in 14 of those deaths.
On the other hand, 2016 numbers from the Minsitry of Public Safety found Vancouverites paid $422 per capita on policing that year, while Surrey residents only paid $272.
The Vancouver Police Department has 1,466 members. The force received 260,000 calls in 2017, an average of 700 a day. So far this year, the city has seen 31 reports of shots fired.
Mounties in Surrey have received 34 of those calls so far in 2018. In 2017, the city saw a total of 59 reports of shots fired.
The Surrey RCMP, which currently has 835 members, received more than 169,000 calls. They responded to 114,000 of them.
In Richmond's case, Brodie said, the RCMP's performance was not a significant motivator when the city was considering a transition to a local force.
"Our feelings, as I recall them, were that we were getting good service in terms of safety from the existing RCMP detachment," he said. "The reasons to do this were not to have a safer city, but to have a safer structure in the long run."
Brodie couldn't say if a new police force would make Surrey safer, but he does know that switching forces means the city faces a long, difficult and complex road ahead.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Michele Brunoro