Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke says the “leadership ball” is now in the provincial government’s court concerning the city’s policing transition after council peppered Chief Constable Norm Lipinski of the Surrey Police Service and Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards of the Surrey RCMP with roughly an hour’s worth of questions about its current state on Monday night.
“We’ve heard today that there is much to be done to get the framework and all the legal agreements in place,” Locke said, summing up the hour. “The city has no authority to do any of that. We cannot just make up the authority, we don’t have that right. The province needs to make sure that there is a plan, that there is a path forward.”
“This council has done everything asked of us and within our authority to follow through on our obligation to determine the policing model for our city,” she said. “Much of the issue that we are dealing with are provincial and federal issues and that has become a lot of the stall.”
Locke stressed that if the NDP provincial government wants the transition to happen, “it needs to step up, show leadership and do their job.” She said she’s repeatedly asked for the plan, has to date sent six letters to provincial government officials, among them Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Premier David Eby, “and seen nothing.”
“I have also never heard of why we had our plan rejected (to stick with the RCMP),” Locke added.
A corporate report before Surrey council Monday night (Sept. 11) revealed there is still “no clear plan, or any supporting documents in place, to continue a transition” to the SPS from the Surrey RCMP as this city’s police of jurisdiction.
“As a result, there remains a great deal of uncertainty regarding how a transition to SPS would be completed,” the report reads.
The corporate report before council concludes that although Farnworth has directed the City of Surrey to forge ahead with the SPS, “outstanding challenges remain” and development of a “comprehensive framework and planning documents is necessary for any transition to SPS.”
On July 19 Farnworth ordered city council to carry on with the transition to the Surrey Police Service from the Surrey RCMP, despite council having voted 6-3 on Dec. 12 to maintain the RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction.
Farnworth then appointed Jessica McDonald as the province’s Strategic Implementation Advisor to oversee the transition. In August, Chris Donnelly, a public affairs officer for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, told the Now-Leader that McDonald “is unavailable for interviews” and Donnelly emailed a statement attributable to the ministry that “The work by the new Strategic Implementation Advisor to advance the transition is well underway,” and that the ministry “will continue to keep stakeholders informed as the work progresses.”
Monday’s corporate report – by Terry Waterhouse, general manager of community services, Kam Grewal, general manager of finance, and Joey Brar, acting general manager of corporate services – notes that the continued deployment of SPS officers into the Surrey RCMP will require another extension of an assignment agreement past Sept. 30 and the $150 million Farnworth promised from the provincial government to help with costs related to the transition “is likely not sufficient to cover anticipated costs.”
Grewal told council Monday that none of that $150 million has yet been allocated to the City of Surrey. “In fact I would take a step back and say the city has not received any funding from the province in relation to the transition,” Grewal said. “I am aware of the public announcement, the public pledge of $150 million which I have on many occasions have said is not enough to cover the damages done to the city both historically and a go-forward basis. As of now, it’s all hypothetical.”
The corporate report notes “outstanding challenges include, but are not limited to, the lack of a joint HR Plan to guide deployments and demobilization, the Assignment Agreement needs to be extended beyond September 2023, and the lack of legal frameworks to support RCMP Members serving under a municipal police department command.”
Moreover, new governance and project management structures must also be established.
“There is also a need to confirm plans for asset transfer or sharing, occupancy of facilities, and file and exhibit transfer, among others,” the report reads.
Coun. Rob Stutt asked Edwards where the transition is at in following a plan, and given that progress, when the SPS will be in the position to become Surrey’s police of jurisdiction.
“At this point in time we do not have a plan that is being followed,” Edwards replied. “A plan is going to have to be developed between the parties, and the architecture to build that plan is going to need to be developed. So for me, it is impossible to provide you with a timeline.”
Edwards said 233 SPS officers were either deployed or set to be deployed to the Surrey RCMP but currently there are “approximately 179” and 38 Surrey Mounties have left the RCMP to join the SPS.
Lipinski said about 45 per cent of the frontline right now are SPS people. Asked how many officers he thinks he actually needs, Lipinski replied he hasn’t “determined that specifically.”
“Right now, our planning prior to the election (Oct. 15, 2022) was to look at 734, which is what is authorized to Surrey right now. So as we move forward 734 plus 25, I know that’s been in the budget for Surrey detachment, that would be the number I’d be looking at but there’s still some planning that needs to take place.”
Stutt asked Lipinski, “I’m going to ask you, sir, does the SPS have a plan to move forward?”
Lipinski replied that for the public’s benefit it’s important to give context. “Two and a half years when I started this, there was a plan – there was an HR plan, there was an assignment agreement which is an agreement between ourselves and the RCMP, but let’s stick with the HR plan,” he said, which had 35 SPS officers being deployed every second month. “And so when the election happened we put a pause on that, and it was agreed by three levels of government so we missed out on a number of cohorts. And then the HR plan expired May 31. And when we were looking ahead at that time we did look at all the things we would want to bring to Surrey and we have in fact started researching some of that. There’s no need to bring it forward to the public at this time because we are not police of jurisdiction. When we get there, we will bring that forward.”
Stutt asked Lipinski “Is there a plan or not? It’s a yes or no question.” Lipinski said “We are in the beginnings of putting together a plan for 2024. I believe that we’ll be moving forward rather quickly here.”
He said that 11 more SPS officers were set to “go over to the front line” on Tuesday morning.
Edwards said there is significant work to be done as there is no plan for transfer of assets (ie. patrol cars), a legal framework outside of an MOU, no plan for information management, information technology, no plan for the transfer of hundreds of thousands of files, and no plan for exhibits. Given the priority of moving officers to the frontline, he said, “We are waiting and working with SPS for a plan to get us to Dec. 31. We cannot piecemeal this, we have to do a fulsome plan.”
Meantime, Coun. Linda Annis noted that having two police departments is costing Surrey taxpayers $266,000 per day. She called the report “disappointing because it reflects a serious lack of urgency and no political enthusiasm or leadership to get the transition done quickly.”
“I get it, the mayor wanted to keep the RCMP, but that ship has sailed,” Annis stated in a press release Monday, charging that Mayor Brenda Locke and council “need to step up” and instruct city staff and the SPS “to get on with completing the transition as quickly as possible.”
Also on Monday, Sept. 11 a press release issued by the SPS bid welcome to its fifth class of recruits. On Sept. 8th, the SPS officially welcomed seven new recruit constables, who will now begin their municipal police officer training at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).
“This group consists of four females and three males, ranging in age from 25 to 38 years of age,” the press release states. “All the recruits have a connection to Surrey – either as residents or through past employment, as well as extensive volunteering experience. They also reflect the diversity of the community they will serve, with different cultural backgrounds and language skills.”