Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth endorses idea of creating a Surrey municipal police force

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      Several years ago, the federal government spent $1 billion on a new RCMP "E" Division headquarters in the Green Timbers area of Surrey.

      But that doesn't look like it will be sufficient to retain the Mounties' largest municipal policing contract in the country.

      Today, Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced that he has given the City of Surrey a "green light" to create a municipal police force.

      The province will exert significant influence through a joint transition committee created with the city.

      It is being chaired by former attorney general Wally Oppal and it will provide advice to the provincial director of police services, who reports to Farnworth.

      Last month, Surrey mayor Doug McCallum announced a new police transition advisory committee made up of himself and four councillors with his political party, the Safe Surrey Coalition.

      McCallum won a landslide victory in the 2018 mayoral race after promising to create a municipal police force in Surrey.

      A city report pointed out that Surrey is 28 times larger than the average community that's policed by the RCMP.

      "By having an independent city police department, Surrey residents will have a local police board that is made up of local representatives that are responsive to the changing conditions and demands from a growing community," the report stated.

      It called for a five percent increase in staffing over what exists in Surrey's RCMP detachment, saying the number of personnel would rise to 805 police officers, 325 civilian positions, and 20 community safety staff.

      McCallum hopes that the police department can begin operations on April 1, 2021.

      The report forecasts the annual budget to be $192.5 million in 2021, which is up from the $173.6 million through the RCMP contract that year, assuming the Mounties aren't unionized by then.

      Two former members of the Safe Surrey Coalition caucus, councillors Brenda Locke and Jack Hundial, have been highly critical of what they say has been a lack of transparency in McCallum's oversight of this issue.

      Earlier this month, Locke claimed that the current transition plan would lead to severe cuts to the police mental-health team, reducing the number of officers from 21 to 11.

      "The report suggests that the police will work with 'community partners' to streamline the service," Locke said. "That may be Vancouver’s solution, but they have significantly more health care facilities and resources. It’s risky here because Surrey has not kept pace with the social and health care infrastructure needs of a city our size."

      Hundial, a former Mountie, has said that the transition plan called for significantly fewer supervisory personnel in a Surrey police force, which he called a threat to public safety.

      He also suggested that it could result in fewer officers on patrol in the early stages of the transition, saying there 843 officers in the detachment now.

      Under the mayor's transition plan, the new Surrey force could be launched with only 80 percent of its authorized strength on day one, according to Hundial.