Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has stated that he anticipates up to 50 or 60 per cent of Surrey RCMP officers will join the city’s proposed municipal police force, but at least one of the mayor’s critics is skeptical of the figure.
Neither the City of Surrey, nor the Surrey RCMP, have conducted a formal study into how many current RCMP members have indicated a desire to switch to Surrey Police Department.
However, McCallum said there’s one unanswered question that could result in that 60 per cent transition becoming a reality.
“The huge question out there, and it is a major one, is whether the pensions can be converted from the federal government to the B.C. government,” McCallum told Peace Arch News last week.
McCallum said the number of Surrey Mounties who will make the switch ranges from 40 to 60 per cent, with the actual number closer to 60 per cent if the city’s successful in getting the federal pensions transferred.
“If we can’t get it – I don’t know what the bottom figure will be. It’s a very important issue to all of the RCMP families in Surrey,” he said.
McCallum said the city has been working on getting the pensions transferred for months, and at this stage, he’s “quite confident” the city will be able to pull it off.
“Certainly, the pensions are a big item not only to the officers but to their families. Again, I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to get an agreement to transfer.”
He said the city has received inquires from officers in other departments across the Metro Vancouver regarding joining the new force. One factor, he said, is that many officers who work for neighbouring municipal police forces live in Surrey.
“That in itself will make our community safer.”
However, officers mulling the idea of switching over to a new Surrey police force don’t yet have an idea of what they’re signing up for in terms of wages, workload, benefits, or pensions.
McCallum told PAN that the wages would be similar to that of Vancouver Police Department officers and other neighbouring municipal police departments.
Surrey Coun. Jack Hundial, who was a Mountie for 25 years, was candid with his response when asked for his opinion on the likelihood of 60 per cent of Surrey RCMP officers joining the proposed municipal police department.
“That’s as ridiculous as saying we’re going to amalgamate White Rock or have a canal in Surrey,” Hundial said, making reference to remarks by Coun. Allison Patton that she wants to see a study into amalgamation and McCallum’s pitch for a “wandering canal” in the city.
The City of Richmond conducted a feasibility study into switching to a municipal police force in 2015. The studyreports that “RCMP pensions are not transferable to the Municipal Pension Plan.”
Hundial said the information provided to the public by the Surrey mayor, and even the city itself, “is not always accurate.”
This summer, a City of Surrey-issued press release stated that 93 to 98 per cent of residents support the mayor’s initiative on policing.
But some RCMP supporters have criticized the survey because it did not pointedly ask residents if they were in support of the city having its own police department, or prefer to continue with the RCMP contract.
“I took a strong exception to not only the way the engagement process was done, but the mechanisms that were used,” Hundial said of the survey. “Because at 97 per cent, it is statistically impossible to get those results and the city has yet to release what the actual comments were of the whole report.”
“I think there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.”
Since Aug. 22, when the province announced its approval of Surrey’s plan to establish a municipal police force, two camps have emerged on the discussion. One side believes that the municipal police force is inevitable, while the other believes there’s still time for the wheels to fall off in the final hour.
“It’s not like last Thursday the solicitor general showed up with 461 police officers and $200 million and said ‘here you go,’ Hundial said. “That to me would have been OK, it’s a go. But that didn’t happen.”
The city’s proposed transition plan to convert the RCMP states that the new force will “go live” on April 1, 2021 and its operating costs will be $192.5 million that year – a 10.9 per cent increase from the $173.6 million the city projects the RCMP would cost that year.
The province’s announcement did give Hundial some assurances, he said, in that the plan will now be reviewed by an independent body.
“It’s out of the city’s hands right now. Up until now the city has not done a very good job of engaging with the community.”
Asked if he can for see any growing pains with a new municipal force, Hundial said there are two issues that keep surfacing.
“Human resources and cost, and from the residents, thirdly, is ‘what am I going to get that’s going to be different?’”
Another challenge, Hundial said, is that when you change police forces, you lose “corporate knowledge.”
“Policing is very much, in some levels, a one-to-one relationship. You know who your criminals are. You know how the criminal organizations are involved. You know the demographics in the community and lay of the land.”
And yet another big component on whether officers will make the switch, Hundial said – a point McCallum echoed – is what is, ultimately, in the best interest for the officers’ families.
“Some are going to look at it as an opportunity to leave,” Hundial said.