THIS WEEK, the new city council of Surrey announced they were getting rid of the RCMP as their police force, and replacing it with a City policing force.
Their citizens are upset and frustrated. Violence and crime are ongoing in their city. Citizens want change.
Currently, the City of Surrey has 835 contract RCMP police officers for a population of just over ½ million. Meanwhile, the City of Kamloops has 121 contract RCMP police officers for a population of about 90,000.
Surrey already has 20% more police for the size of its population than Kamloops. If Kamloops equalled the size of the Surrey’s detachment, it would have 141 officers.
Throwing more officers at crime hasn’t improved the situation in Surrey.
Surrey’s mayor argues that the City of Surrey needs more control over its policing. Certainly, the contract RCMP take directions from their superiors in Ottawa, and local headquarters, when drafting priorities for policing.
But, my experience at City of Kamloops was that the RCMP was very open to taking input from council and city staff on setting priorities. The Kamloops RCMP’s priorities reflect the City of Kamloop’s needs. As well, the ongoing City’s Community Safety Committee allows discussions of community concerns.
Surrey and Kamloops both have crime and violence. But Surrey’s violence is double Kamloops’, even for a really bad year in Kamloops. In B.C. in 2016, there were 864 police-reported fire-arm related violent crimes reported by the police. Fire-arms violence in Greater Vancouver (including Surrey) was 20 per 100,000 population in 2016. In Kamloops in 2016, gun-related violent crime was 7 per 100,000 population. Even in a bad year, like 2017, when the Red Scorpion gang was more active in Kamloops, fire-arms related crime was 13 per 100,000. Kamloops is far less violent than Surrey. Surrey is plagued by drive by shootings, with 59 in 2017, which luckily Kamloops has mostly avoided.
But it isn’t just luck.
Throwing more police, RCMP or otherwise, at Surrey ignores what the causes of gang violence are. Kamloops has just as many young people as a percentage of our population as Surrey does. But for the most part, young people in Kamloops are choosing different options than joining gangs and getting immersed in violent lifestyles.
Surrey already spends 20% per person on policing than Kamloops.
But there’s another difference in how the City of Surrey spends money.
By population, the City of Kamloops spends more than double what the City of Surrey spends on parks and recreation. In fact, Kamloops spends as much on parks and recreation as it does on its RCMP contract. Meanwhile, Surrey doesn’t even spend half as much on parks and recreation as it does on policing. Kamloops invests equally in providing youth with healthy options, as it does on fixing the problems that result when people choose a life of crime.
Positive role models, extra-curricular activities, positive life skills, and quality time with youth are all listed as ways to keep youth out of gangs. The City of Kamloops has places youth can go, and feel a part of the community. There are activities that youth can be part of that connect them with community. As a community, Kamloops invests heavily in our youth.
Feeling a sense of belonging can come from a soccer team. But it can also come from being part of a gang.
Good luck to Surrey. I hope you can get a handle on the out of control violence in your city by changing your police force.
Thank you Kamloops for choosing a different path.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.