British Columbia

Ex-Mountie believes officers would leave RCMP for a Surrey police department

An outspoken critic of RCMP management says Surrey’s new municipal police force should have no trouble recruiting officers.

Chris Backus says recruitment shouldn't be a problem as city aims to set up its own force

Chris Backus speaking at a rally in Surrey in June 2017. No longer with the RCMP, Backus believes recruitment won't be a problem for Surrey's planned municipal police force. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

An outspoken critic of RCMP management says a municipal police force in Surrey would have no trouble recruiting officers.

Ex-Mountie Chris Backus was at the centre of last year's protest over wages and working conditions that saw RCMP officers cover up the yellow stripe on their pants.

He also organized a protest rally in Surrey that drew a large turnout, which he says supports Mayor Doug McCallum's claim that about half of the city's 835 officers would leave the RCMP to join a new city force.

"Some are obviously very proud Mounties who will want to stay, but I honestly believe that a very large percentage of talented police officers will convert over, no problem," he said.

"I think the strategic way to go about it — from the mayor's standpoint — is to say if your organization won't take care of you, come over to our side and we will."

Doug McCallum was sworn in as Surrey's mayor on Nov. 5. One of his campaign platforms was replacing the RCMP with a municipal police force. (Colin Fode/CBC)

Backus supports McCallum's decision to opt out of the city's contract with the RCMP — but also acknowledges the transition won't be easy.

"It's obviously in the early stages," he said. "There will be some long and daunting days to get that done but, in the long run, I think they'll have a better quality of service."

'It could well be a terrible mess'

Hiring hundreds of officers is arguably the biggest obstacle McCallum has to overcome in order make good on his campaign promise to complete the transition within two years.

SFU criminology professor Rob Gordon says the timeline is too ambitious.

"It could well be a terrible mess," he said.

"That's notwithstanding the excellence of the poor fellow who is slotted into leading this," added Gordon, referring to Terry Waterhouse, the city's former general manager of public safety, who has been appointed to oversee the police transition.

Waterhouse says it's a tight deadline but he believes it can be met.

"The legislation itself is where it stipulates a two-year time frame," Waterhouse said.

"It's that and our estimate of how much work is required — which is a lot — that we believe a two-year window is the correct time frame."

Gordon says the city would be better served to take its time with the transition to make sure mistakes are avoided.

"The whole thing is a matter of political expediency rather than police efficiency," he said.

"I think most people who have a feel for the criminal justice system feel the same way."

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