Surrey Councillor Tom Gill calls for 2019 referendum on a Surrey police department

Tom Gill

SURREY Councillor Tom Gill announced on Monday that Surrey residents could go to the polls next fall to decide if they want their own police department. Gill told his fellow councillors that he plans to introduce a motion at next week’s council meeting directing city staff to make plans for a third-party review of Surrey’s policing options, including bringing back a city police force.

Gill said the review would include extensive public consultation and input, followed by a special municipal referendum on a Surrey police department in 2019. Staff will be asked to come back with a plan and a proposed review process by the first meeting of the new city council following the October 20 election.

Gill says it is time to ask Surrey residents if they want their own police force, and there is no better time to start the discussion than during the upcoming municipal election. Currently, policing in Surrey is provided by a detachment of 835 RCMP officers, the largest municipal RCMP force in the country.

“It’s time to ask our residents what they think of having a Surrey police department, one with deep roots in the community, and one that reports completely to the people of Surrey, instead of RCMP headquarters in Ottawa,” said Gill who has been a Surrey councillor for 13 years. “Frankly, I think we need to ask ourselves if we’ve outgrown the RCMP?”

Gill said the review and referendum would look at all aspects of the issue, including taking a serious look at what Surrey needs in the years ahead, as well as potential budget considerations. The RCMP have provided contract policing to Surrey since 1951.

“We need to look at everything from costs and current contracts, to the fundamental issue of whether a city our size should have its own police force,” explained Gill, an accountant who chairs the city’s finance committee and sits on Surrey’s policing committee. “We need a full, frank and transparent discussion, one where every voice counts. The RCMP do a very good job, and our day-to-day relationship with the RCMP leadership and officers here in Surrey is excellent, but one day very soon our city will be the largest in the province, and we need to ask ourselves if we would all be better served in the long run with a made-in Surrey police department.”

Gill noted that across BC there are 12 municipalities with local police departments, and only Vancouver’s is larger than Surrey.

“There are 300 families moving to Surrey every month, and in the next 10 years our population will be over 600,000,” added Gill. “There’s a reason other major cities across the country have their own police force, and why the RCMP tend to police smaller communities,” said Gill. “The RCMP started with us back in 1951. A lot has changed over the past 67 years and today we’re a large urban city. I think it makes good sense to take a detailed look at how we’re policing Surrey going forward. Could we do an even better job if we had our own police department with its local focus, local approach and local recruitment?”

In 1887, Surrey hired its first official police constable, Edmund T. Wade, who worked on a part-time basis. In 1950, Surrey council voted to hand over policing duties from the Surrey Municipal Police Department to the RCMP. Fifteen RCMP constables began patrolling the city on May 1, 1951.


Gill’s Notice of Motion (July 9)


Madam Mayor, I would like to make a notice of motion.

Recently, thousands of surrey residents grieved together at the Wake Up, Surrey rally after the murder of two teenagers.

They are calling on politicians and law-enforcement agencies to fix the problem, including demands for more police officers. Surrey residents are fearful, angry, and frustrated.

The city’s RCMP detachment has added 126 more RCMP since 2016, with plans to add more.

The number is unprecedented. No other municipality has made such a significant investment in such a short time.

Police strength is only one part of a complex system of resources, deployment, strategies and tactics.

It is not enough to match the per capita number of police officers deployed in neighbouring cities given our unique demographics.

Surrey is growing and it’s time to ask ourselves what sort of policing will work best for us in the future.

We’ve contracted the RCMP since 1951, when they first arrived with just 15 officers. Today, 835 members make up the largest municipal detachment of RCMP in the country.

We are no longer a small, suburban city. We are a metropolitan centre and our population will top 600,000 in 10 years.

The debate has been re-ignited; Is it time for a homegrown, locally focused, locally accountable police force built specifically for our needs, our growth and our future?…That’s the fundamental question.

I think the time is right to have that conversation with our community.

We’re heading into an election, so what better time to start the discussion?

It is a big decision and it should not be made lightly or emotionally.

We need the facts, all of the facts, to make the right decision.

I want a serious, transparent, review, and I want our citizens to be engaged at every step of the process.

This is one of those monumental decisions where every voice matters, every voice counts.

Madam Mayor, my notice of motion is that “Council request staff provide a report with a detailed process and proposal for a third-party, public approach to the question of whether surrey should have its own police department or not.”

We are asking staff to look at options on how best to research the issue, and also how to fully engage the community, all with the intent of holding a special referendum in the fall of 2019.

And, we’re asking staff to return with a proposed plan for the review in time for the first meeting of the new city council following the municipal election on October 20th. That new council can then provide the direction on how and when best to proceed with the process.