In 2018, Doug McCallum was elected mayor of Surrey on a platform that included scrapping the city’s relationship with the RCMP to create a new municipal police force.
McCallum’s vendetta against the RCMP goes back to his first election as mayor in the 90s, when he criticized the police force for accurately reporting crime stats, which contributed to his 2003 defeat.
Over McCallum’s most recent term in office, three of his councillors turned on him and his Surrey Police Service (SPS) because the transition wasn’t transparent.
One of those councillors, Brenda Locke, challenged McCallum for the mayor’s seat last year and narrowly beat him with her party, Surrey Connect, claiming four of the eight council seats. By electing Locke and her slate to council, Surrey voted to keep the RCMP and end the transition.
Expense is the most important reason Surrey should stick with the RCMP. Continuing the policing transition to the SPS would cost the city $1.16 billion over five years, whereas the RCMP would cost $924.8 million over that time.
This is a difference of $235 million, money that could go towards any number of things that could improve the city more than a new police force such as transit, affordable housing, basic amenities like community centers, or simply keeping property taxes low.
One of the most important ways to truly reduce crime isn’t by paying more for policing, but by increasing youth services and reducing poverty. The Surrey RCMP does create programs that work specifically for Surrey, despite some claims.
The Car 67 Program, which pairs an officer with a mental health and addictions nurse, and Project Lavender, which was created by the Surrey RCMP and local students to prevent exploitation and help youth make good choices, are two of the biggest programs the RCMP tailored to Surrey.
The elephant in the room is that the RCMP has an extremely long history of racism and discrimination. But so does the Vancouver Police Department, which the SPS consulted and hired many officers from. We have a much bigger problem here, and it’s the sad reality that policing culture as a whole is extremely toxic.
There was never going to be an easy choice on policing after the 2022 election. B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth recommended the city continue the transition and offered $150 million in support. It made perfect sense for Farnworth to do this as it would help fill RCMP vacancies around the rest of B.C. with Surrey’s RCMP officers.
Locke rejected the offer, which also makes sense because the RCMP will leave the city with more money in its coffers and will continue to cost Surrey less in the future, leaving future city councils with more money to invest in things that truly matter to people within the city.
A referendum is one idea we shouldn’t be considering. Only 31 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2022, and if the turnout is even lower in a referendum, which it likely would be, we’d have no obvious decision and it would be a waste of time and money.
But at the end of the day, everyone should remember that we aren’t going to be unsafe with one police force or the other, they’ll work about the same at policing our city for better or for worse.