SURREY First mayoral candidate Tom Gill on Thursday called for a city-wide referendum on a local police force, introduction of Surrey’s first Police Board, a ban on handguns, the addition of 125 new officers and a complete police services review.
“We’re a safe city, but it only takes a single shot to shatter that sense of safety,” said Gill. “Public safety is a priority for all of us, and that means tackling issues on a number of fronts, because there isn’t just one answer when it comes to keeping Surrey safe.”
He said: “Two months ago, I asked whether our city had outgrown the RCMP, and called for a broad community-wide discussion and referendum on having our own police force. It’s a big decision because policing is our single largest operating cost. We spend about $160 million annually on policing and if we are going to make a change then everyone needs to have the facts and everyone should have a say. But, it’s certainly time to ask ourselves if we have outgrown the RCMP and what it means if we decide to have a made-in-Surrey police department.”
Gill said Surrey First also believes it is time for a Surrey Police Board, the same kind of locally-controlled governing body that provides direction and oversight in communities that have their own police departments.
“I want policing to be directed locally, reflecting our Surrey priorities,” added Gill. “We need a Surrey Police Board created under the BC Police Act so that we can have more local control and accountability. That local authority is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. We are fast becoming the largest city in the province and we need that kind of community authority, oversight and direction.”
Gill said that like other police boards in British Columbia, the Surrey Police Board would be chaired by the mayor and include representatives from across the community who are appointed for terms of up to four years.
Surrey First also wants to add 125 more police over the next five years at an annual cost of $160,000 per officer.
“The addition of another 125 officers will bring us to 960, still the largest RCMP detachment in the country,” said Gill. “But, adding more police is only one part of our public safety plan. Maybe it’s the accountant in me, but I want to see measurable outcomes and results that are monitored and demonstrate real value for money. For instance, what does hiring one more officer do in terms of better neighbourhood policing or reducing response times. For me, what gets measured gets done.”
Gill said as part of those measurable results, he wants a full police services review within the first 90 days of a new council. The last police services review was chaired by then-mayor Dianne Watts.
“I want to know what our police need, but I also want to know what more we’re going to get for that investment,” said Gill.
“For instance, we want parents and families to help us keep kids out of gangs,” added Gill. “We also want to have more say as a community on how we’re policed, and we want to work with other cities to keep handguns out of our community. These are powerful parts of the plan that need to be coordinated together, rather than treated as individual items. If we don’t knit these things together we’re missing a real public safety opportunity.”
Pointing to a poll released this week by Mario Canseco, President, Research Co., that showed nearly 80 per cent of British Columbians supported a handgun ban in municipalities, Gill said that Surrey First will work with other municipalities such as Toronto and Montreal to ban handguns.
“Handguns and cities don’t mix,” said Gill. “We want to do everything we can to keep guns off our streets and out of our city, and that means taking a hard stand against handguns. The last thing we want as Canadians is an American-style gun culture. This is Canada, we’re a civil society and handguns have no place in our communities. We know that restricting gun ownership works. You only have to look at the success Australia had after the 1996 massacre in Port Arthur that saw 35 people killed. They got tough on gun ownership and haven’t had a mass shooting since.
“This is one of those issues that is black and white for me. In fact, I’d be prepared to make handguns the biggest issue in the election. You can’t run for mayor, or council, and say you’re for public safety, then turn around and say you’re fine with handguns in our city. This issue requires leadership and determination because there’s no middle ground.
“Public safety is an issue that hits close to home for all of us. That’s why we believe that we need a comprehensive approach. We want more police, but we also need more local authority and direction, more monitoring of results, more intervention programs to keep kids out of gangs, and a community-wide vote on having a local police department.”
GILL on Thursday also said the proposed 60-unit supportive housing proposal for downtown Cloverdale needs to find a new location.
“I’ve spoken to BC Housing and let them know that this is the wrong location and the proposal needs to look for a more appropriate site,” said Gill, who is also chair of the city’s finance committee. “I’ve walked the proposed location and the neighbourhood and I’ve heard from the community. It’s clear that this proposal has to go back to the drawing board. There’s no formal application in front of city council, so the whole thing is at a very preliminary stage, which means starting over is the right option.
“There’s no question we need supportive housing, that’s a reality. But, the proposed location in downtown Cloverdale isn’t the right fit, and I’m prepared to work with BC Housing and the community to find a better and more suitable location. We have a strong and progressive track record in Surrey when it comes to homelessness and housing, and while this location isn’t right, it doesn’t change our commitment to working with BC Housing and the community to create the supportive housing that’s needed.
“I spent most of my career as chief financial officer for Coast Mental Health, and I’ve always been an advocate for social housing. I know how much it’s needed, but I also know the right location is key.”
Councillor Vera LeFranc said she agreed with Gill and that finding the right location is critical to the success of Surrey’s supportive housing efforts.
“We’re committed to supportive housing and finding creative ways to make it happen,” added LeFranc. “But, when Tom and I walked around the site and the neighbourhood it was obvious that the fit was wrong and the community concerns were real. We didn’t find a single person who was opposed to housing for the homeless, but when you look at the proposed location, and you listen to the practical and genuine concerns of the community, it’s easy to see why finding a better location makes sense.”
Gill said that sending the proposal back to the drawing board at this early stage makes more sense than going all the way through a formal process that’s going to have the same result, all because it’s proposed for the wrong location.
“I want to keep working with BC Housing and the community, and I want to make this project a priority for our next council,” added Gill. “But, I’d rather deal with this particular location right now and save valuable time so that we can all get to work to find a location that makes sense for the city, the community and BC Housing. That’s the kind of proposal that’s ultimately going to get approved.”