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

Adam Walker. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach voters wait to see if they must return to the polls

Byelection could be required if councillor wins seat as MLA

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Parksville man faces charges after incident at car dealership in Duncan

Police were alerted to suspected break-and-enter in progress

(Black Press file photo)
Parksville Qualicum Beach crime report: Bank discovers counterfeit Canadian currency

Oceanside RCMP received 249 complaints in one-week period

Jordan Jay Ward, 20, is wanted Canada-wide for manslaughter. (Calgary police photo)
UPDATE: ‘Suspicious’ man seen in Parksville woods not manslaughter suspect

Hikers say he resembled Jordan Jay Ward, wanted Canada-wide

From left: BC NDP candidate Adam Walker; BC Liberal Party candidate Michelle Stilwell. (Submitted/file)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Parksville-Qualicum candidates wait for mail-in ballot count

NDP’s Adam Walker has lead over B.C. Liberal Party’s Michelle Stilwell

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

A picture of John taken at Children’s Hospital Vancouver last week. Photo courtesy, Alicia Sewid.
RCMP investigating after young boy run over by SUV in Campbell River parking lot

The seven-year-old has multiple injuries including a broken pelvis and was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

A video message from Mrime Minister Justin Trudeau was streamed to attendees at the State of the Island Economic Summit on Tuesday morning. (Vancouver Island Economic Alliance image)
Prime minister greets Vancouver Island economic summit attendees

Vancouver Island Economic Alliance conference being held virtually this week

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Most Read