So by now you have heard the latest policing news consuming the Lower Mainland of B.C. The question: who is going to police the City of Surrey? After four years of transitioning to a new police service, the Surrey city council have decided that this would be a good time to go backwards. Re-trench, undo all the previous political decisions, fire the 390 officers that they already hired, and try to find more Mounties to go back to being policed by the men and women in Scarlet.
The “decision” was pushed to the NDP Government in Victoria to come up with a “decision”.
So now the “decision” was in.
British Columbia Minister Farnworth announced that they would recommend carrying on with the original transition to the newly formed Surrey Police Service; that in essence the Mounties are not in a position to properly re-take policing in Surrey or resume becoming what the government calls the “police of jurisdiction”. Also Mr. Farnworth and the NDP, in other words, the taxpayers of British Columbia, are willing to help defray the costs of the annual increase in costs, estimated at $30 million annually, for at least the next five years during the transition to the SPS.
Correspondingly, he also added that if the council under the guidance of uncomprehending Brenda Locke continues on her stated path of going back to the RCMP, or “reverse transitioning”, then there would be no monies forthcoming from the government. This would include the $72 million estimate that would need to be paid out to to get rid of the already hired SPS employees.
If the new money was not enough to convince Ms. Locke the government felt it necessary to add that if they choose to go back, then there would still be a number of conditions that they outlined that needed to be met. Those conditions on first viewing seem to place the Mounties in a very difficult position, especially the one where they are not allowed to steal from other detachments to reach the Surrey manpower goals.
It was a long awaited decision, one of the hardest decisions Minister Farnworth, the Attorney General for British Columbia says that he had ever undertaken, in trying to decide on who should patrol the streets of Surrey. He probably should have said the hardest “recommendation” he had to put forward, but maybe we shouldn’t pay attention to the semantics. One certainly should not be paying attention to either former Mayor McCallum, or the current Mayor Brenda Locke. Former Mayor McCallum just seems like an old crotchety senior citizen of South Surrey ranting over the picket fence. After the decision he was interviewed and spoke at great length how he never sees the Mounties at his grand kids soccer games. One would assume in his mind conclusively proving that the RCMP are not good members of the community.
Mayor Locke for her part accuses everyone of playing politics– except herself of course. She like McCallum seems at times unhinged, and we would also say with complete confidence, completely disconnected to the real conditions in the Surrey RCMP and in the RCMP in general. It may not be her fault because this blogger believes she has been continually misled by the information coming out of the RCMP.
It is sometimes forgotten that originally Ms. Locke was on the side of McCallum and ran with him. She then she had a falling out with the mayor, and overnight became revolutionized, and is now re-born as an ardent supporter of going back to the RCMP. One should not under estimate the fact that for Ms Locke this fight is personal. In fact she may be motivated solely by conquering McCallum–she is bitter, and the thought of McCallum winning the overall argument does not sit well, and may in fact be playing the biggest part in clouding her judgement.
In following the media, and the social media around this decision, seems to demonstrate that there a bit of fact checking needed.
There has been a lot of comment about the NDP, not wanting to offend too many voters and the nine parliamentary seats in the Surrey area, that what Farnworth and the NDP did in “recommending” was to effectively”kick the can down the street”. This is true, it was a recommendation not a decision; but that is the result of the sometimes vague language of the Police Act. In particular Section 2 which states that the Minister responsibilities include only that he “establish priorities, goals and objectives and goals for policing and law enforcement in British Columbia”. He can recommend, set out conditions, but not dictate, which is what they did.
Ms. Locke says the government has been disrespectful in that the Police Act states “categorically” that the choice of police is under the purview of the municipality”. Not quite true either. The Act says that the municipality of over 5,000 people must “provide police and law enforcement in accordance with this Act” (Section 3). Again the Act language is somewhat vague on this, but then again Ms. Locke has developed a recent habit of misleading statements.
There are large portions of the report redacted, which for the life of me on reading all that was provided does raise the question as to what possibly could be so sensitive that the public is not allowed to see it —especially in the context of this narrative. I have been told that Ms. Locke points to this redaction as a government cover-up, but the fact of the matter is that all the redactions were done or requested by the RCMP.
You will remember that all the parties; the RCMP, the Surrey City Council and the Surrey Police Service all provided reports/information for the Provincial government to consider. They had to be asked twice, because the first time they didn’t answer all the questions. In fact back in December they called the City report as having “contained inconsistencies, lacked supporting data and evidence”.
The City report now provided estimates to re-take policing in the city that they would only have to re-up 161 members (I am not convinced of that number and neither was the government) and that they were going to do this by three methods: recruiting back from the SPS; getting more officers from Depot (which would negate other detachment needs);,and by pulling members from other regions of BC (page 24). They even suggested that they could transfer members into the Surrey detachment for 6 months and if that still was not sufficient could resort to calling members in on overtime to fill shifts.
The government saw this as problematic. How could an agency that is 1525 (hard/soft vacancies) officers short in the Province begin to take further members from other locations they asked? Remember that this government just gave an additional $230 million to try and support the rural areas of the Province because of a lack of staffing. The government also quoted the 2019 Public Safety Canada report which stated: “demand for officers…outstrips the RCMP’s capacity to recruit and train” and “that under staffing is effecting the health and welfare of their members”.
They go on to say that Federal policing has been eroded to meet those contract demands and stated the stats that since 2010 show that contract officers increased by 17% while Federal officers decreased by 30%. They concluded by saying that they had significant concerns regarding sustainability of the program and regular member production levels.
What the most interesting take-away from all of this, it is that the RCMP has finally had to reveal its staffing inadequacy that has been in existence for probably 25 years. Every Mountie that has worked in the lower mainland for the last few decades has heard the term “do more with less” so much so that it became a standing joke at every annual assessment of spending priorities. Now the shortages have become acute, exacerbated by demographics, covid, a lack of recruitment, and a complete lack of foresight by the upper management of the RCMP and the governments of the day. The difference now is they have had to come clean with the staffing shortage numbers. They have had to show how they were going to cover off these shortages and when examined, in essence, they were going to resort to their time held tradition of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Now the government has called them on it.
The 20th century centralized structure of the RCMP is now making people even question the “sustainability of contract policing”. This was most recently stated by the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, that was completed by this same BC Provincial government and released last year. It called for the re-establishment of a Provincial force, to get rid of the Mounties all together.
People need to understand and accept that the RCMP is not a stable organization right now. This is not about individual officers this is about an organization.
The RCMP is being buffeted by the winds of needed change. The inquiry at Portapique, just the most recent to say what has been said by other inquiries and other reports that came before it. The City of Surrey is a large municipality that is growing at 1,000 to 1500 people per month. It clearly needs its own dedicated police force with local control, that can act and re-act in a timely fashion. Ms. Locke, for whatever reason, is ignoring the obvious.
As a former long-standing RCMP officer it saddens me that the organization has proven that it can not adapt to big city policing, but it is what it is. There is also the theory that Ottawa once when pressed, will admit that it is really wanting to be a Federal level only Force. This is a difficult country to be all things to all people, to be a single police entity for all forms of investigational need, a massive undertaking in any circumstance. Currently the RCMP is failing miserably on the Federal side as well, and a re-structuring from the contract Provinces would go a long way in boosting up the Federal side. Whether true or not, only time will tell.
There is a long history of RCMP ineptitude in Ottawa, most of it born out of government bloat and bureaucratic aggrandizement. This is a police service which became too enamoured with themselves, enamoured with promotion and empire building, and to survive has traded in political favours, all to the detriment of the basic organizational and contractual needs. This is an Ottawa problem not a problem of individual police officers.
It is indeed ironic, that while all this mayhem and political grand-standing is going on and circling the RCMP’s largest detachment in Canada– the acting RCMP Commissioner is in England, presenting a horse and a ceremonial sword to King Charles. They just don’t get it. Similar to Trudeau in New York to talk about women’s rights and pose with Hollywood celebrity Hugh Jackman “Wolverine”, all while Ottawa is under a massive general strike.
So my advice to Ms. Locke, swallow your political pride, you are in essence surrounded on all sides, there is no way out for the RCMP; they are trapped in a system, one that will simply not allow them to fulfill their present mandate. Now not only the Surrey taxpayers are going to pay the price for these politicians, now everyone in the Province will be paying for these shenanigans. As long as this goes on there is further indirect damage being done in terms of operational policing. Morale is at an all time low on both sides, there is continuing in-fighting between the SPS members and the RCMP, some of it quite personal, continuity in files is being damaged, and the image of Surrey and its council is being tarnished with every appearance at a podium. While they decide who has the authority to go ahead, the decision is now stuck, resting somewhere in the ether, nestled between vague pages of the Police Act. The government report now estimates, even if they decide to carry on with the Surrey Police Service, another three years will be needed. A total of seven years for a transition?
Meanwhile, Brenda and Doug are politically arm-wrestling to see who will eventually be allowed to drive the clown car.
Photo Courtesy of David Blackwell vis Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved