SURREY — City staff have been directed to begin preparations should a third-party policing review happen in Surrey.
The city is looking into how it would “fairly” conduct a review looking at replacing the RCMP with a city force, explained Surrey City Clerk Jane Sullivan.
The results are to be presented at the first meeting of the new Surrey city council after the Oct. 20 civic election, at which time a review could be formally launched if council so decided.
The motion to begin this process was put forward by councillor and mayoral hopeful Tom Gill at the end of Monday’s council meeting. Gill’s motion received unanimous support.
After presenting his motion, Gill said there are “constant questions” in the community about whether Surrey has outgrown the RCMP.
“Without question, I think it is time to have that discussion. I think we need to have monumental decisions made where every voice matters and every voice counts. We are a different city than we were in 1951. At that time a referendum took place that brought in the RCMP,” he said.
“I think that many individuals have indicated the benefits of having a local police force include having deep roots in the community and more importantly, I think that people are wanting to understand that the governance is local, and the manpower and approaches we take are locally focused. I’m looking at a serious, transparent review with significant citizen engagement for us to be able to undergo this big, monumental step.”
Gill’s motion had three points — should the new council decide to move the review forward — two of which were unanimously supported: to “conduct a third-party review and related consultation to be conducted in a manner that includes rigorous research on all issues under consideration as well as recommendations for a best practice policing service model, resourcing and related financial considerations” and that the “findings and recommendations of a third-party review be presented to council in 2019 and released to the public to ensure full transparency.”
But a third point in his motion was opposed by Councillor Bruce Hayne, who recently split from Surrey First and is also taking a run at the mayor’s chair.
Gill’s motion stated: “Council will determine if a special referendum regarding the implementation of a Surrey Police Department is required to be held in the fall of 2019.”
Gill’s motion was initially to be voted on as a whole, but Hayne asked for separation of the points so he could vote against the referendum piece.
“I simply can’t support a referendum on this issue,” Hayne said. “I think we’re elected to make those kinds of decisions. But it certainly would be worthwhile and beneficial to have a study and to find out what the cost would be of looking at municipal police force versus the RCMP.”
Hayne said the issue of converting from RCMP to a municipal force is “certainly is a topic of much discussion in the community these days and certainly the basis of an election campaign it would seem.”
“I think the RCMP do a tremendous job day in and day out in our community and that shouldn’t be lost in this at all,” Hayne added. “I’d also point out that that that thought that a municipal police force is just going to be a magic panacea and that all of the sudden we’re not going to have gang violence in the community is simply not the case as evidenced for instance, this year, Abbotsford has more gangland killings than Surrey does and they have a municipal police force. But I think it is important to have the facts and have the information in front of us so we that can make an informed decisions.”
Councillor Vera LeFranc, who seconded Gill’s motion, said “there’s a lot of talk anytime a tragedy happens about, ‘We should have our own police force.’ But we don’t really have the true information we need to make that kind of huge decision.”
“I think the public needs to understand what the transition would be like, what it would cost, what it would mean to their individual taxes,” noted LeFranc. “To have everything in front of them so they can make that decision. It is a significant investment on the part of the city, and people need to know the facts to make that decision and more importantly, council needs to know those facts.”
Councillor Dave Woods, and former Surrey RCMP officer, supported Gill’s motion as a whole but stressed his support for the “exemplary” work the RCMP do in the city.
“I’m very concerned with respect to the strength of our current RCMP, this study is going to go on, but has been eluded to, the day-to-day operations continue. I will be having more to say about this in the fall. I think there’s a need for supply your current RCMP with an increase in resources…. but I’m going to be supporting this but with respect to the referendum, frankly, I think the time has come that the citizens need to have input — but they need all the details. That’s a huge but.”
Outgoing Mayor Linda Hepner said “no doubt about it” this will be an election issue, noting it has already appeared in the local papers.
She commended the RCMP for its work in the city, and said “we don’t have to look very far in this country” to see examples of municipal forces.
“If we think that is the answer without intervention programs, without prevention programs, we are sadly mistaken,” Hepner stressed. “But is this a necessary piece of the pie to understand what that would look like if we had our own force? A transition plan, it would be years in the making. But it’s easy for the public to say we should have our force and we think that’s going to solve everything, which it very clearly will not.
“Do I think the public deserves to know what those numbers are? And deserves to know what that looks like? I believe we’re on the right track with this motion,” said Hepner.