Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum in Vancouver, on Thursday November 1, 2018. One of British Columbia’s largest cities is in a unique position to redefine policing at a time when anti-racism advocates are calling for an overhaul. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, meets with Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum in Vancouver, on Thursday November 1, 2018. One of British Columbia’s largest cities is in a unique position to redefine policing at a time when anti-racism advocates are calling for an overhaul. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Surrey in rare position to redefine policing amid calls for defunding

The wheels were set in motion for the new police service in 2018

One of British Columbia’s largest cities is in a unique position to redefine policing at a time when anti-racism advocates are calling for an overhaul.

Surrey was in the midst of replacing the largest RCMP detachment in Canada with a municipal force when the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to Black Lives Matter protests around the world.

But with Mayor Doug McCallum envisioning an increase in police presence rather than defunding the force, Surrey’s new model appears unlikely to fulfil protesters’ vision for a fundamental shift in the mandate of the police.

“It’s going to be a new, modern, proactive police service,” McCallum said in a recent interview, adding that he’d like to see officers so involved in the community that they pre-empt 911 calls.

“It’s not like the old model of policing that is all reactive — somebody phones 911, they rush to see what the problem is. That’s all reactive. We want to get out in front of that so that they don’t have to make that 911 call.”

McCallum, who also chairs the police board, said it will be a priority to hire officers who reflect the city’s diversity.

The wheels were set in motion for the new police service in 2018, when Surrey’s new council terminated its contract with the RCMP. Voters filled all but one council seat with Safe Surrey party members, including McCallum, who ran on making the change.

Safe Surrey has pointed to rising crime as justification for the shift while the RCMP has defended its record, saying statistics don’t back up that perception.

Since then, the anti-racism movement has prompted deeper questioning in North American communities about what role officers should play in society. Protesters have called for governments to redirect spending from police into community resources like housing and health services.

READ MORE: Surrey Police will replace RCMP, government confirms

While the budget for Surrey’s municipal force has not been set, it appears to require broad funding, including for positions outside the police force itself.

According to McCallum’s vision, front-line officers would be backed by an increase in bylaw officers, school liaison officers and others.

He also expects they will work in teams with social workers, health workers and others when responding to issues like homelessness or mental health emergencies.

“Putting a team together to address it is the most effective way to do it,” he said. “Yes, police have to be part of the team, but they’re only a part.”

Mounties in Surrey already work in teams with nurses specializing in mental health through its Car 67 program. Those teams responded to just under 900 of the 7,600 mental-health calls the detachment received last year.

McCallum is only one voice on the nine-member police board and whether his vision comes to fruition remains to be seen. The mayor said the board plans to meet by the end of July and hire a police chief in August.

Chief Harley Chappell of the Semiahmoo First Nation said he applied to join the police board because the municipality has not included his community in plans for the new force, despite the city being home to one of the largest urban Indigenous populations in Canada.

After a long history of poor relations with police, the First Nation has finally developed a good working relationship with the RCMP, said Chappell, who was appointed to the board by the province.

Semiahmoo leaders are in regular contact with the staff sergeant of the RCMP’s diversity unit. And an officer dedicated to the First Nation has taken time to develop relationships with its members over many years, he said.

Now that work seems to be at stake. Chappell said he’d like to see those relationships expanded, not scrapped.

“My wish is to have that diversity unit expanded to have First Nations policing as part of the municipal force, to ensure that relationship is there between the municipality, the police service and the First Nations people in the area.”

READ MORE: ‘World of difference’ between policing in Canada & U.S.: Oppal

Chappell said he wasn’t prepared to share his perspective on broader ideas regarding police mandates and funding, but as a former social services worker he believes prevention is often overlooked as a priority.

Harsha Walia, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said she doesn’t have a lot of faith that significant change will happen in Surrey and expects to see a strengthening of the “law and order agenda.”

“I think what we’ll end up seeing is this version of community policing dealing with mental health, homelessness, substance use and ‘gangs’ in Surrey and police kind of emerging as this catch-all solution, rather than the more rigorous social, political and economic transformation that’s needed,” she said.

Diversifying the police force is a more superficial response to the systemic racism in law enforcement that puts Black, Indigenous and people of colour at a higher risk of violence and criminalization, Walia said.

And pairing officers with health workers for “wellness checks” won’t stop violence from escalating if the officer takes over as soon as a threat is identified, she said.

“I think right now we’re in a moment where there’s a deep questioning,” she said.

“The social issues in Surrey that have been emerging for so long, that have really been the momentum that has propelled the idea of a municipal force forward, I think there’s a second kind of question that needs to be asked. Not only, is this something that a municipal police force can resolve, but is this something that police at all can and should be resolving?”

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

PoliceRCMPSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abbotsford Christian Middle School staff and students were asked in a Nov. 15 letter, to self-isolate until Nov. 24. (File photo)
More COVID-19 exposures recorded at independent Abbotsford Christian schools by Fraser Health

Abbotsford Christian Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Cornerstone Christian school listed

The recipients of the 2019 Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards held in Abbotsford. (Jason Brown/Revival Arts Studio)
Nominations open for 2021 Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards

Awards open to Abbotsford, Mission, Langley and Chilliwack

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

Phyllis Stenson, a mainstay of the local arts scene and the Harrison Festival of the Arts, passed away earlier this month. Stenson was crucial in setting up the foundation for relationships, funding and more that continue even now to echo well past her retirement in 2013. (Contributed Photo/Harrison Festival Society)
Harrison Festival, Fraser Valley arts icon Phyllis Stenson mourned

Stenson passed away in late November, leaving lasting legacy of passion for the arts behind

Janet Austin, the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, not seen, swears in Premier John Horgan during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Horgan says he will look to fill gaps in the federal government’s sick-pay benefits program aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. premier says province prepared to patch holes in new federal sick-pay benefits

Horgan said workers should not be denied pay when they are preventing COVID-19’s spread

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Most Read