Surrey Government Cuts Millions in Social Projects to Fund Police

On Tuesday, December 4, 2018 mayor Doug McCallum announced that Surrey is going ahead with creating a new municipal police force. This commitment to proceed comes despite his claim that the City does not have the money to build promised new libraries and a community centre.

The program halts were announced as debate opens on a new budget and are geared toward gutting the budget to the tune of $135.6-million in costs. Notably this is a mid-level estimate of the cost involved in moving to the new municipal force that McCallum was elected on and is committed to pursuing.

Cops cost. In any city budget formal policing generally makes up about 30 percent of the city budgets. That is for formal policing, while further funds are taken up for informal policing measures (crime prevention societies, private security, etc.). As Anti-Police Power Surrey has pointed out consistently, funds and resources directed toward policing undermine city budgets and deny funds to other necessary services that benefit, support, and sustain communities while reducing social harms.

Communities not cops: Policing and cuts to social services

The cutting of necessary social services and community resources always underwrites police resources. Funding cops comes at the expense (social and monetary) of our communities. That is why Anti-Police Power Surrey puts at the forefront of its message the call to “Divest from Police and Invest in People.”  Projects halted or delayed by the pro-police budget cuts in Surrey include an Indigenous gathering place, an ice rink complex in Cloverdale, the Grandview Heights Community Centre and Library, land acquisition for a performing arts space, expansion of the Fleetwood Community Centre and Library as well as a child care centre. Plans to create a “Glades Park” will also be delayed, as will expansion to Newton Library.

Just as telling are the projects that will not be cut by the mayor. The city is going ahead with adding $4.81 million to the police budget, including such items as making 12 new police positions permanent, salary increases, operations and maintenance costs, and increased funding for integrated teams. Another $1.38 million in funds is going toward RCMP support services.

Beyond this, the budget proposes spending an additional $330,000 per year on the bylaw department. This will include costs involved in upgrading a bylaws radio system. The budget report also gives a positive shout out to the bylaw department’s Community Patrol Officer Program that has been operational over the course of more than four years now.  The report claims that “such programs play a key role in engaging with the community and early identification of local safety concerns.” In fact, it is largely about increasing criminalization for low level activities and targeting specific members of our community, such as homeless people, low-income tenants, and sex workers.

“Living within our means” means catering to business and development

Young hockey players and fans protest the delayed construction of Cloverdale hockey rink (pic. from PNG Press)

Mayor McCallum explained his austerity logic to a news conference: “We need to live within our means. We are building within our means. As our community grows, we will be building facilities in it, but we will be building them with pay-as-you go financing.” Indigenous and racialized people, poor people, and marginalized youth will be more negatively impacted not only by the loss of important community facilities and services but by increased surveillance, criminalization, and violence by police within this expanded austerity-security environment as well.

McCallum’s supporters in business and development will be less impacted. This is a simple and familiar austerity politics. In fact, it is the consistent hallmark of punitive neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has always imposed austerity and scarcity on working class communities, haranguing us to “tighten our belts” and “live within our means,” while simultaneously turning public wealth and resources over to institutions of state violence—cops, prisons, military.

McCallum has added to this the neoliberal language of flexibility. In his words: “When we worked with our staff to put forward the budget, we said — very clearly — that we want it to be a more fiscal[ly] stable position today, which would allow us to be more flexible in the future.” That flexibility will allow Safe Surrey to put public money toward the new municipal police force.

McCallum has already announced that a report on replacing the RCMP with a municipal force will be delivered to the province by early 2019. He is moving forward on the policing file ahead of schedule. McCallum said of the policing agenda, that “It’s probably going a little quicker than I even expected. People are working together towards getting our own police force. We are working exceptionally hard.”

The destructive impact of austerity cuts

The mayor’s cuts have a double impact. On one hand they throw more public funding toward repressive policing measures that inflict harms on targeted people and communities in our society, making them less safe and secure, more fearful, and more excluded socially, thus increasing conditions for further social harms. At the same time the cuts withdraw fundamental supports from a broad range of community resources that actually serve to reduce social harms, build social cohesion and solidarity, and increase community involvement and commitment.

Decades of criminological research, from the neighbourhood studies of the Chicago School in the 1920s to the present-day community crime prevention studies, have shown conclusively that shared community resources, spaces, and activities do more to reduce social conflict and social harms across cities than do police and policing.

Even moderates can see the socially destructive nature of these cuts. Former Surrey city councillor Barinder Rasode, someone with whom we would share little political ground, has responded to McCallum’s cuts announcement saying she is “very concerned” about the halted funding for recreational centres. According to Rasode:

“As we all know, Surrey does have some significant issues around crime and gang violence. By actually reducing opportunities for children and families in the city I think we’re going down the wrong road. There is no doubt that the more dollars we spend on children at an early age is actually saving long term in terms of crime reduction and having fully functioning adults in our society.” (CBC)

While the language around “functioning adults” and crime should be challenged, the point is that even a reformist politician, a former Surrey councillor, can see that community facilities and resources and facilities do more to address social harms than do cops.

Funding the police always means defunding us and our communities. It is a double move that negatively impacts people in terms of punishment while also dismantling and disrupting the shared resources that contribute to decreased social harms and conflicts. Anti Police Power Surrey is making a call to challenge the push for the continued massive spending on police in Surrey and oppose the drive for more policing that characterizes both mayor McCallum’s Safe Surrey slate as well as the so-called progressive alternative slates in Surrey. There is a great need to work in our communities to build strength among us, particularly those most negatively targeted, impacted, and penalized by policing programs in the city. We need, collectively, to assert our needs for libraries and community centres, as well as a range of other community supports, spaces, and resources against the extortionist demands of police and the businesses and politicians who promote them. Police must be defunded, not our communities.


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