Expert weighs in on Doug McCallum’s policing transition plan for Surrey

It was a primary pillar of Doug McCallum’s campaign platform in his quest to become Surrey’s mayor, and replacing the city’s longstanding RCMP force with an independent municipal police department was one of his council’s first orders of business—with all eight city councillors unanimously voting to do so on November 5.

But that sweeping transition, which would juggle hundreds of RCMP members and public safety in a city already in the grips of gang violence, likely won’t be as simple as it sounds.

Few experts know the intricacies of the situation better than Jim Cessford, who served as Delta’s police chief for two decades.

“There are a lot of resourcing issues you’d have to look at. There’s policy issues. Financial issues. A lot of those things,” Cessford told Global News. “I think that it could be affordable. But, certainly, you need to have a closer look at the books.”

Cessford, one of several experts asked to weigh in on the process by McCallum, believes a more realistic transitional timeline for the rollout would be four years—roughly twice as long as what was initially proposed during McCallum’s campaign. The price tag could also exceed the $120 million it is expected to cost the city.

“They have to work with the RCMP here. They’re the police department of choice in Surrey right now. And I think this transition will take extreme communication between the RCMP, the province, the federal government, and the community as well,” Cessford said.

“People need to know why you’re going to do this. And if you can tell people why, you can get them engaged and get them on board. And I think, right now, there’s a lot of people that are out asking the question, ‘Why is this happening?’”

Cessford believes that once members of the public have more information they’ll become more comfortable with the idea of replacing the province’s largest RCMP force, a polarizing topic that is garnering a mixed reaction from McCallum’s constituents, as an online petition calling to keep the status quo in Surrey garners hundreds of digital signatures.

He notes that, because Surrey is divided into “quadrants” from a policing standpoint, he’d advise rolling out the independent police force gradually—beginning in quadrants with lower crime rates.

“In that transition phase, there cannot be any lapse in policing,” said Sukhi Sandhu, on behalf of community advocate group Wake Up Surrey. “Policing is just one layer of this multi-layered issue. We need to get on with our anti-gang strategy.”

Sandhu, along with Wake Up Surrey, is calling for a three-member board to be specifically designated towards the transition.

“Our city council needs to appoint three members of council to lead the transition phase, along with senior management,” Sandhu said.

“Citizens want to ensure that the same policing, if not better, is occurring during the transition phase. We’d like to see our council and police working together behind closed doors, and coming out of that room as one.”

That’s something Cessford believes is attainable—noting other municipalities, like Abbotsford, have undergone the same transition. He says he hasn’t been asked to lead the transition by McCallum, but would be open to providing assistance and guidance on the matter.

“To me, it’s about public safety. And that’s why I’ve been in this business from the start,” Cessford said. “And If a new city police force is going to make [Surrey] safer, then I’m all for that. And I’ll do whatever I can to help out.”

Neither McCallum, the Ministry of Public Safety, or the RCMP would provide comment on the matter Tuesday.

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