British Columbia

This could be the last summer for Surrey RCMP's bike and foot patrol unit

The planned transition from RCMP to a municipal police force transition has cast uncertainty over the future of the Mobile Street Enforcement Team, which has patrolled the city's high-crime areas on foot and on bike for the past year.

Mayor expects city police force will be in place by July 2020, creating uncertainty in teams like MSET

Surrey RCMP officers make an arrest near Surrey Central SkyTrain Station. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

On Wednesday afternoon, Surrey's mayor announced that the long-awaited report laying out how the city will replace the RCMP is finally finished.

The policing plan will now be sent to B.C.'s solicitor general, who needs to approve it before the transition to a municipal force can begin.

"The completion of the Policing Transition Report is a landmark moment for the City of Surrey as it marks an important step in bringing local accountability to the citizens of Surrey," Doug McCallum said in a prepared statement.

As the news was coming down, the Surrey RCMP's Mobile Street Enforcement Team (MSET) had just started its shift.

Business as usual on an unusual day — because the police force transition has cast uncertainty over the future of the unit, which has patrolled the city's high-crime areas on foot and on bike for the past year.

Police stop a man for riding a bike without a helmet near Surrey Central SkyTrain Station. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Mixing outreach and law enforcement

Late Wednesday afternoon, one of the officers is walking his beat across the street from Surrey Central SkyTrain Station when a man approaches him.

He needs help getting identification so that he can get social assistance.

"Could you fill out what's called an attestation form?" the man asks the officer.

"I'll have to look at first but if I can help you, I will," the officer replies.

Const. Joe Lau says the exchange illustrates what the MSET is all about — a mixture of outreach work, law enforcement, being accessible to the public and building relationships.

"We have been working in this area for quite some time and a lot of us police officers started in our training days in this area," he says.

"Many of these people we know on a first-name basis."

Const. Joe Lau says he is on a first-name basis with many of the people he interacts with while on the beat in Surrey's Whalley neighbourhood. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

500 arrests

Over the span of about an hour, members of MSET stop a handful of people for riding bicycles without helmets.

An officer tells a man who is drinking a beer behind Central City Shopping Centre to move along.

Nearby, a woman who has an outstanding warrant is put in handcuffs and placed in the back of a police cruiser.

Down the street, a man tells an officer about how he quit selling drugs so that he could be a better father.

"I didn't want to end up dead," he says.

Chad Purdy, who has worked at the Hockey Shop for 30 years, says he appreciates having a visible police presence in the neighbourhood.

"There've been some dark days around here," he says.

"More recently, we've seen their presence start to be felt a little bit. We're not perfect yet, but it's finally noticeable."

The team has made about 500 arrests since it was introduced in May 2018, roughly a third of which have been related to outstanding warrants.

Surrey RCMP Sgt. Mike Deneumoustier says his unit has made about 500 arrests over the past year. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

'It's a lot safer'

Patrols get beefed up for the summer because warm weather tends to attract bigger crowds and more police calls.

But this could be MSET's last busy season.

McCallum says the Surrey Police Department will be up and running by July of next year.

He says there will be an overlap period of about a year where the RCMP will work alongside the new police force to make sure the transition goes smoothly.

That's creating some uncertainty for newer teams like MSET.

Sgt. Mike Deneumoustier isn't speculating about the future of his unit but says he's proud of what they've accomplished over the past year.

"One of the first things I noticed when I started was that when you get off the SkyTrain, there were a lot of people loitering and drinking in public," he says.

"When we're out there, we're able to disperse those people and it's a lot safer. The people and businesses notice."

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