On October 20th, the electorate of Surrey said that they are fed up with the RCMP. With the number of shootings seemingly unstoppable, followed by the usual explanations formulated by practised media spin units, saying it was a “targeted” homicide, and the “public has nothing to fear”, it seems to have reached a breaking point. Yellow police line tape seems to stretch for miles and dominate the weekend news in Surrey. There are the innocents who have died in Newton, businesses and people who don’t even bother to report crime anymore in Whalley and Guildford, and they seem to have finally reached the end. It has been a long time coming.
In the past, the 10% discount for the RCMP seems to have silenced the critics who complained of less officers on the street, a growing and expansive police budget, and increases in property crime and drive by shootings. Maybe this is no longer true.
The RCMP has been part of the City of Surrey since 1951 when fifteen constables began patrolling the town which became a city in 1993. It has been growing at remarkable speeds ever since, with a population now exceeding over 500,00 and the detachment in seeming lockstep, has grown to over eight hundred officers. It is the flagship detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, their largest detachment in Canada, and that flagship is now sinking under its own weight.
Now, a party led by the irascible, tempestuous and often incomprehensible Doug MacCallum has re-swept into power at the age of 73; running on a singular party theme of safety in the streets.
His newly founded party is a one issue group, calling itself the Safe Surrey Coalition. Counsellors who have swept into office with him, including ex-RCMP police officer Jack Hundial, also have identified themselves as singular in their focus, and that focus is to get rid of the RCMP. In their view and clearly in the view of the electorate the RCMP has failed the people of Surrey.
MacCallum is a colourful character, never an admirer of the RCMP, who was last in power in 2005. MacCallum was removed from power originally in 2005 by Diane Watts, and then followed by her appointed successor Linda Hepner. Both were clear fans of the RCMP, buying into the agenda of the RCMP and sprinkling every press conference with plaudits and statements of the excellent job the RCMP was doing.
But the scepticism has been brewing under the surface for years. Many police officers have openly expressed the opinion that the RCMP can not keep up with the times, including this writer; that it is governed and directed by the highly political Ottawa, an Ottawa and Federal Liberal government which has long since lost the confidence of the public, at least in terms of policing.
A police force which seems to be embroiled in internal unrest, whether it be sexual harassment, or poor wages. Wrapping themselves in the flags of diversity and inclusion, seemingly oblivious and unable to relate to the citizens of Surrey where the bullets continued to richochet around the community police stations.
This is an RCMP which seems to have grown into and become an ineffective agency. Ridiculously low solve rates, officers constantly complaining about low wages and poor working conditions, insufficient manpower, and a parade of weak leadership at the top of the detachment have been fuelling this slide.
A top management level interested in keeping Ottawa happy, interested in career advancement and promotion while expanding a bloated and inefficient plainclothes sections, all the while seemingly oblivious to countering the day in and day out criminal activity for which Surrey has always been infamous.
Their only response to the crime, to the death of innocents was that they needed more officers. From Bill Fordy to Dwayne McDonald, always the same, they need more. During Hepner’s time as mayor she claimed to have added 134 officers, but it was never enough.
It was a tried and true chant while at the same time there were several re-organizations of the detachment, each seeming to add further and further layers to the detachment bureaucracy, and a clear bloating of the numbers of officers in specialized sections to the obvious detriment of officers on the “road”.
No one questioned the inside shenanigans at the detachment. At the time of the last municipal election a few days ago, McDonald was again scheduled to request further officers. (It should be pointed out that from 2014-2017 Mr. McDonald was the officer in charge of IHIT, which grew from 48 officers to 110 individuals and a collapsing solvency rate hovering around 20% )
In the last number of years, you would hear words like “progressive”, “community first”, “engaging our youth”; innocuous silly platitudes, all designed to fudge over detailed analysis of what was going on both inside and outside the detachment.
Over the years the RCMP has hidden behind those detachment walls, never allowing outside examination of management to any degree. Annual Performance Plans have been tailored to speak in generalities, no deep dives into the statistics, little of substance or real meaning. An annual exercise in bureaucratic concealment, far from the eyes of the public.
So the citizens of Surrey are now going to begin an exercise to exorcise themselves from the red tunic, and for many that served in this community over the past number of years, it will indeed be sad. But it is inevitable.
The RCMP management of the last twenty years have been oblivious, unable to speak the truth either for political reasons or because they were “going along to get along”. Somewhere the vision was blinded, lost to political expediency, somewhere there has been the disappearance of the goals to “uphold the law and provide quality service” (RCMP Mission Statement.) They focused on the writing of the Mission statement and selling it, as opposed to the actual performing of the Mission statement.
They began to develop “strategic media units” to create the spin. Honesty became blurred.
None of this is to say that any upcoming Municipal police force will be a bed of roses. It will be more expensive for sure and political control will be local. Not Ottawa, but political none the less.
Most officers currently policing Surrey will likely switch over to any new agency, grown tired of the RCMP, no longer concerned about being a member of a National police force and not overly concerned with the history of boots and breeches. They are the millenials after all — careers, work life balance and wages are their new loyalties.
There is good work being done at the Surrey RCMP. There are good people working long and difficult hours. There are good investigations which have been successful and most of these people would likely join and be part of any new Municipal agency, lost to the RCMP for good.
The singular and most obvious problem was that the operational policing structure, the traditional pyramid where the solid base was the uniform on the street was turned upside down. It became a top heavy bureaucracy infatuated with promotion and specialization, forgetting that everything starts on the streets. They lost sight of the fact that policing principles, its basics, has not changed for decades. It is a government agency which should never have lost track of what was important, where the expertise and productivity actually come from, those formative years in policing.
Seniority, supervision, and continuity took a back seat to what was perceived and sold as being more sophisticated. Everyone became an expert. This combined with demographic issues has led to the average service of the RCMP on the road in General Duty in Surrey to be 1.8 years. (This according to sources, as the RCMP will not admit to the public that this is the case).
If MacCallum succeeds in removing the RCMP then the RCMP nationally will be affected. It would be an admission that they are incapable of city policing, an admission which would be a loss of face.
For the people of Surrey who are demanding change, their only hope is that it is successful and the Mounties get the proverbial boot.
To date the Mounties have not re-acted to the election. Maybe, they don’t care. Maybe, they want it to come about as it may lead them toward a possible goal of an FBI style RCMP. Maybe, there will be a domino effect and regional policing will once again come to the fore. Further time will tell.
To the officers that came and went from Surrey Detachment, part of their policing heritage will be altered, and as the “white shirts” toddle off to their better than average pensions, they should at least consider apologizing for their inability to adapt, for being caught up in playing the government political game, for not taking principled stands and for being dishonest in terms of accountability.
Like the battered and bruised boxer answering the bell after 8 rounds; the RCMP question is whether they can make it to the final round, still answering the bell, arms up trying to avoid head shots, muttering about being cheaper, in an effort to keep from being knocked out. As Roberto Duran said when fighting Sugar Ray Leonard and famously declared “no mas”; there indeed may be “no more” fight left in the RCMP.