The RCMP is still providing contracted police services to B.C.'s second-largest city.
But Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has still called February 27 "day one" for his city's new municipal police force.
That's because today, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth gave the green light to the creation of a Surrey police board.
That's the next stage in the mayor's plan to dump the RCMP and replace it with a new Surrey Police Department.
“In just over one year, we moved from a unanimous council motion to full reality on our promise to deliver to the citizens of Surrey a city police department,” McCallum said in a news release. “With Minister Farnworth’s final approval to establish the Surrey Police Board, today marks day one for the Surrey Police Department.”
The police board will be the employer of the police, including its civilian members, and provide financial oversight. In addition, municipal police boards hire a chief, establish policies, and respond to service and policy complaints.
“The time has come, and some would say it’s been long overdue, for Surrey to have a police force of its own where accountability begins and stays within our city,” McCallum stated. “Local responsibility, priorities and oversight will reside within the Surrey Police Board, which will be comprised of our most qualified citizens."
The head of the Surrey RCMP detachment, Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, acknowledged in a statement that he has not seen the report done by the provincial municipal policing transition study committee, which is chaired by former attorney general and B.C. Court of Appeal justice Wally Oppal. It was created in August 2019 to oversee the city's transition plan.
"We respect that every municipality has the right to choose what type of police force they want for their city," Edwards emphasized. "But that is not to say this is not difficult for us.
"Given the nature of the work we do in the community, we are heavily invested in Surrey and its residents," he continued. "This situation is discouraging for our members who enjoy policing this community and, in particular, for those who live in Surrey and raise their families here."
He also expressed appreciation for the thousands of Surrey citizens who demonstrated their support for the work done by Surrey RCMP officers.
"There is no denying that we have deep connection with this community," Edwards said, "and that is a significant part of what motivates us in our work every day."
A former RCMP officer who was elected on McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition slate, Coun. Jack Hundial, has been among the most vocal critics of the mayor's plan.
Hundial is one of three councillors who left McCallum's party after taking office in 2018.
He tweeted this week that it's possible to have a Surrey police board while retaining the RCMP as the contracted police agency.
Another councillor who bolted from McCallum's party, Brenda Locke, has pointed out that raw data compiled for a City of Surrey report showed that there is significant local support for retaining the RCMP.
Locke was only able to obtain the data via a freedom-of-information request because, according to her, the mayor didn't want this information being made public.
Last August, Locke warned that a transition report revealed a serious public-safety issue: the police mental health team in Surrey could be cut from 21 officers to 11 officers if McCallum's plan were to be approved.
"The report suggests that the police will work with 'community partners' to streamline the service," Locke declared at the time. "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."
In the past, the RCMP has come under criticism from addiction harm-reduction advocates for its historic opposition to supervised-injection sites. However, in 2017, the province's second supervised-injection site, SafePoint, opened in Surrey on 135A Street. It's funded by Fraser Health and operated in a partnership with Lookout Emergency Aid Society.
The Surrey Mounties, in conjunction with the Surrey Fire Department, have also been zealous proponents of shutting down cannabis grow-ops in recent years.