Surrey’s transition to the Surrey Police Service should continue, the province has recommended.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth delivered on Friday morning (April 28) what many in this city would characterize as an agonizingly long-overdue decision on its controversial policing transition, concluding that Surrey should continue with its transition from the Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service.
“Everyone deserves to be safe in their community and all British Columbians deserve secure, stable policing they can count on,” stated Farnworth in a release. “The people of Surrey are very frustrated by years of uncertainty over this debate, but we must move forward without reducing police presence when we need it the most. Now is not the time to put public safety at risk in Surrey or in any community in the province.”
The province has also offered financial support – up to $150 million over the next five years – to the City of Surrey if it chooses to continue the transition to a municipal police force to ensure no additional costs to Surrey residents.
“This path forward will ensure safer policing for all regions of the province, including the people of Surrey, and provincial support will help keep them from paying significant property tax increases,” Farnworth said.
The province’s recommendation comes after a report by the director of police services concerning plans put forward by the City of Surrey, RCMP and the Surrey Police Service (SPS).
There are currently about 1,500 RCMP vacancies throughout the province. The report states that Surrey reverting back to the RCMP would exacerbate the challenges faced by municipalities and Indigenous communities by increasing demand for officers and aggravate public-safety concerns. Filling RCMP vacancies is the responsibility of the federal government.
The report is not binding and it should be noted that the City of Surrey can ignore the recommendation. However, if Surrey does ignore the province’s recommendation and stick with RCMP, there are conditions that must be adhered to (see graphic below).
The RCMP has been Surrey’s police of jurisdiction since it took over from the Surrey Police on May 1, 1951, as the result of a plebiscite. Surrey’s is the largest RCMP detachment in all of Canada.
On Nov. 5, 2018, the council of the day, led by mayor Doug McCallum, served notice to the provincial and federal governments that it would end its contract with the RCMP to set up its own force.
Four years and one civic election later, on Nov. 14, 2022, the current council led by Mayor Brenda Locke decided on a 5-4 vote to maintain the Surrey RCMP as this city’s police of jurisdiction instead of forging ahead with the Surrey Police Service.
Both camps in this acrimonious struggle roundly slammed Farnworth’s announcement on Thursday, Jan. 26 that more information was needed from either side to “inform further consideration” as to whether Surrey should maintain the RCMP as its police department of jurisdiction or continue with the transition to the Surrey Police Service from the RCMP.
“The longer two police agencies are operating with this uncertainty, the more taxpayer dollars are being unnecessarily spent. The instability needs to come to an end, and a timely response is critical,” Locke fumed at the time.
The Surrey Police Board also lamented that delay, stating in a press release it is “unfortunate that a matter of such critical importance to the community is being delayed.”
Locke staged a presser on Feb. 18 revealing that the biggest chunk of a proposed 17.5 per cent property tax increase – 9.5 per cent – would be levied “entirely due” to cover costs associated with the policing transition. She said this proposed budget is based on the premise the Surrey RCMP will continue as the city’s police force. “If we were to go with the Surrey Police Service, that number would be significantly more,” she said. The tax hike ended up at 12.5 per cent.
Asked by a reporter in Victoria on Feb. 21 if his “inaction” in arriving at a decision is leading to Surrey’s proposed 2023 tax increase, Farnworth replied “that’s just nonsense.”
– With files from Tom Zytaruk