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Surrey had trouble getting policing data from RCMP, says consultant

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Curt Griffiths says when information wasn’t available, policing transition report writers used open source information.

Surrey mayor Doug McCallum briefs the media after releasing the city’s Policing Transition Report on Monday, June 3, 2019. Jason Payne / PNG

The City of Surrey was forced to rely on “open source” information for Surrey RCMP service levels when preparing its policing transition plan, according to a consultant who worked on the report.

This could have led to the discrepancy between how many officers the RCMP says it has in its detachment and the number cited in the transition plan, which outlines how the city could transition from contracted policing with the RCMP to a new municipal force.

The plan, which was prepared by the cities of Surrey and Vancouver, and the Vancouver Police Department, has been submitted to the provincial government, and must be reviewed and approved by the solicitor general before it can proceed.

“The City of Surrey made requests of the RCMP and then the City of Surrey made that information available to the Vancouver police under the (memorandum of understanding). I think it’s important to note that not all information requested form the RCMP was provided,” said Curt T. Griffiths, a professor of criminology at SFU.

According to the report released by Surrey, a municipal department will have 1,150 employees: 805 police officers, 325 civilian positions and 20 community safety personnel.

The report said the Surrey RCMP has “an authorized strength” of 843 officers, but it has 51 vacancies, leaving “a funded strength” of 792 officers. The detachment also has 302 civilian employees, who work for the city.

Based on those figures, Surrey’s plans for a municipal force would see the number of officers increased by 1.6 per cent, or 13 officers.

However, the RCMP provided different numbers. According to its figures, there is “a full complement” of 843 officers in Surrey. In order to cover temporary vacancies, such as transfers or parental leaves, the RCMP provides officers for Surrey.


Surrey RCMP Cpl. Elenore Sturko speaks to media at the Scott Road SkyTrain station after a recent shooting.

Francis Georgian / PNG

Surrey RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Elenore Sturko said although 51 positions may appear vacant on paper, they are backfilled and not left empty.

If the RCMP’s numbers are correct, Surrey will actually have 4.5 per cent fewer officers after the transition.

And even though Surrey would also have 20 community safety personnel, which would be equivalent to an auxiliary or reserve officer, the Surrey RCMP currently has 42 auxiliary members on top of its 843 officers.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who did not respond to a request for more information on Tuesday, said on Monday that it was “not true” that there are 843 RCMP officers, and stood by the number in the report.

“The report’s very clear and I can only go by what’s in the report,” he said.

Griffiths said he’s also confident in the numbers used to prepare the report and what the project team has put together.

“If they’re (Surrey RCMP) saying it’s a different number, it should have been provided to the City of Surrey, then,” Griffiths said. “One would think that the municipality would be able to find out how many officers are policing their community, but that’s not possible.”

When asked for clarification of the numbers, the Vancouver Police Department deferred to the City of Surrey and Surrey RCMP.

Griffiths said the concern should not be over a handful of officers — though he conceded that the city could benefit from 400 more — but with having a policing model that works.

“You can quibble about 20 bodies here, 20 bodies there. You can have 1,000 officers, but if they’re not properly deployed, they’re not going to be effective,” he said.

“To me, as a person with expertise in policing, the body count doesn’t make a difference, the key thing is how are they deployed: Are they intellectually led? Are they using best practices? Are they engaged with the community?”

He believes a municipal force will better serve Surrey’s needs as a growing city, and even if there are fewer officers, there will be more on the streets.

The report says a Surrey police department will deploy 16 per cent more front-line patrol officers than the RCMP, and 84 per cent of officers will be constables. To be more visible in the community, more than 64 per cent of officers will “deploy in uniform and interact with the public on a regular basis.”

McCallum said residents want to see more officers on patrol — something Griffiths called “reassurance policing.”

I’m more concerned that we get more feet on the ground out in our public so everybody can see our police working in their communities, and living our communities, and working with our communities,” said McCallum. “That’s far more important to our residents than having management sit behind a desk and never get out and patrol our streets and talk to our residents.”

In a letter to McCallum that was released on Tuesday, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that if the province approves Surrey’s plan and gives formal notice that the RCMP contract is terminated, the federal government and RCMP will cooperate with the city and province during the transition, including cost sharing some expenses.

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