Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says she prefers a "two-tiered" approach to policing that would maintain neighbourhood-level contact between police and residents to having one big regional police force serve the entire Lower Mainland.
That said, the mayor also indicated she's not hung up on what police force polices her city - or the region, for that matter - as long as the model works.
"I really don't care what uniform they wear as long as the job gets done," she said.
The Now asked Watts where her loyalties lay after the Vancouver Police on Tuesday endorsed former judge Wally Oppal's recommendation to establish a regional police force that would serve all of Greater Vancouver.
Watts replied that she believes Surrey has been "well-served" by the RCMP.
"I'm in favour of two-tiered policing." What does that mean?
Watts sees a need for some police officers to be "imbedded" in the community, to maintain neighbourhood connections, while homicide investigations and curbing gangsters should be under the bailiwick of a "co-ordinated" regional effort.
This is more or less what we have now. But the relationship between the two tiers, Watts argues, requires better definition and needs to be strengthened because at present there's no adequate "governance structure" overseeing it.
According to a recent Angus Reid poll, 57 per cent of respondents surveyed support the creation of a single police force that would oversee the whole Lower Mainland.
Watts doesn't appear to be married to the idea of the RCMP policing Surrey ad infinitum, but if the city did part ways with the force it would be a difficult separation indeed considering the RCMP's deep and broad roots in this city.
Those roots are witnessed by the proliferation of RCMP E-division buildings in West Newton, Surrey being home to the nation's largest RCMP detachment, and the fact E-division is currently transferring some 2,700 employees from throughout the Metro Vancouver into its new $1-billion headquarters building at 14200 Green Timbers Way.
The RCMP has been policing Surrey since it replaced the Surrey Police Force on May 1, 1951. The force's new contract, approved by city council last spring, will expire on March 31, 2032. When the contract was signed, annual RCMP costs in Surrey were roughly $101 million, but that figure was expected to increase by 1.6 per cent over the next three years.
The new contract, like the old, contains a clause where Surrey can opt out with two years' notice. For her part, Watts sees no pressing need to replace the RCMP here. "I think they've done a good job in the City of Surrey," she said. Still, city hall, she added, is "continually looking for efficiencies."
Surrey's detachment is Canada's largest and currently has 661 Mounties and roughly 250 support staff. Roughly 46 per cent of property tax collected in Surrey pays for the city's RCMP service.
Under the latest contract, the federal government pays for 10 per cent of the RCMP's costs with the city picking up the remaining 90 per cent.
Last week, Watts attended a national public safety summit - The Economics of Policing - in Ottawa, where politicians wrestled with the topics of rising police costs despite dropping crime rates, as well as sharing responsibility for those costs.
JACKSON LIKES STATUS QUO
Meantime, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson is not in favour of a regional police force being created for the Lower Mainland.
"Why would we take a lesser service than what we have? We have a great police force," Jackson said of the Delta Police, a force that's celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
"The system we have here is second to none. It works for us, and our crime stats show it."
The Delta Police co-operates with neighbouring police departments while at the same time maintaining a "no call too small" approach to local policing.
"I don't think anybody else does that," Jackson noted. "There are lots of places to co-operate, but I think you have to remain in charge of your own house, so to speak."
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