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Can Surrey's mayoral candidates fulfil their policing promises?

11/02/2014 09:00 EST | Updated 01/02/2015 05:59 EST
Surrey’s leading mayoral candidates have made crime, and community safety their biggest issues in this election campaign, promising to put more RCMP officers on the streets.

But it might actually be much more difficult for them to fulfill their promise, a CBC Reality Check reveals.

First, here are the candidates and their promises:

- Doug McCallum of the Safe Surrey Coalition promises to hire 95 new RCMP officers and “double street patrol.”

- Linda Hepner of Surrey First promises to expand Surrey RCMP by 147 members, direct more officers to policing schools and “enable RCMP to adopt a neighbourhood policing model."

- Barinder Rasode of One Surrey promises “more police on our streets” especially in “high crime” neighbourhoods. Rasode also promises to implement a new force of “community safety officers.”

But what influence would they have as mayor?

The answer: not as much as they’d like you to be believe.

Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, is not surprised each mayoral candidate is pushing a tough on crime agenda that promises direct the deployment of new officers.

“It’s a favourite drum to beat, and they’ve been setting up a particular rhythm that is entirely predictable,” Gordon said.

“Their influence extends to persuasion.”

Mayors' powers limited

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan knows the difficulties of hiring more RCMP officers, and directing their deployment.

That is because Corrigan is also the chair of the policing advisory committee for the RCMP.

He says there are systemic problems all mayors face when trying to hire more RCMP officers.

Corrigan says hiring new officers is dependent on the number of officers graduating from the RCMP’s training depot in Regina.

“You can’t depend on getting police officers even though you might order those police officers. So they go on your books as being ordered, but your compliment may not be fulfilled,” he said.

“Most cities are struggling to try to get up to their compliment. Most end up having less than the actual number of officers they authorized.”

Corrigan says cities often “over-order” their officers to compensate, which can cause budget problems on the rare occasions a city receives all the officers it requested.

And he says retaining RCMP officers is difficult, as they are often moving from city to city in the region or working on major-crime regional teams such as IHIT.

Corrigan says he has a good working relationship with Burnaby’s detachment commander, who is open to feedback, should city officials express a need for more officers in a particular neighbourhood.

“But ultimately I can’t dictate where those resources go. The RCMP always have control over their own deployment and they set their own priorities,” Corrigan said.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t listen though.”

Another solution?

Mayors in municipalities policed by a municipal force have more influence than mayors in municipalities with RCMP detachments.

For instance in Vancouver, the mayor chairs the police board, which hires the police chief.

That’s why criminologist Robert Gordon is particularly interested in Barinder Rasode’s promise to create a new team of “community safety officers” who wouldn’t carry guns, but would support the RCMP in Surrey by handling less significant crimes.

“The theory is that they are cheaper, they are more connected to the community because they are often drawn from the community,” he said.

“It’s quite a useful resource that is paid for, and under the direct control of the municipality.”

Gordon says that’s about the only way a mayor can have the authority to direct police to walk the beat in a particular neighbourhood, or focus on a particular type of crime.

In conclusion, a mayor has limited influence over the RCMP, and will have to rely on powers of persuasion in order to make any policing promises come true.

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