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Locke seeking clarity on how Surrey Police Service build-up to unfold

Strategic Implementation Advisor, Jessica McDonald, to facilitate transition process
Surrey Police patch from Twitter Brenda Locke photo by Anna Burns

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke is calling on Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to explain why he imposed a “double standard” on staffing-up for the Surrey RCMP while the same requirements “were not applied equally” to the Surrey Police Service.

“Council and I would like to understand how and why the minister arrived at the conclusion that the city has failed to meet the test and why the minister did not do a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of continuing with the policing transition,” she said at Monday night’s council meeting.

Locke said she will be meeting with Farnworth to “go over” council’s concerns and to understand how he plans to move forward, “especially how he plans to mitigate the significant financial impact on Surrey residents.”

Council, Locke added, will reveal its “next steps” once it has received necessary reports from the SPS and the provincial government and has had the opportunity to review them.

“The decision on policing in Surrey will have an impact that will go beyond the present-day city council and provincial government. That is why it is of crucial importance that we get this right so we can ensure that Surrey residents and businesses will not bear the financial burden for generations to come and that Surrey’s public amenities, services and programs will not be diminished due to one costly error in judgment.”

Surrey’s acrimonious policing transition went from cancelling the RCMP to building the Surrey Police Service, then retaining the RCMP, and now back to moving forward with the SPS.

What’s next?

“This decision is the final decision,” Farnworth said. “I fully expect the elected government in Surrey will follow the law. I know that this is an extraordinary use of my powers under the Police Act, and I did not make this decision lightly.”

His “final decision” on Surrey proceeding with the SPS instead of sticking with the RCMP as its police of jurisdiction was arrived at, he said July 19, because the City of Surrey could not meet mandatory requirements imposed by his ministry. The provincial government has appointed a Strategic Implementation Advisor, Jessica McDonald, to help facilitate the transition process.

“In this role, she will aid parties in meeting timelines, facilitate dispute resolution, and ensure effective communication and completion of the transition to the Surrey Police Service,” a government bulletin reads.

Locke said while the provincial government’s offer of $150 million is “welcome” to help facilitate the transition, the city has incurred over $60 million since December in extra costs “and that number will only get bigger with our decision to stay with the RCMP not being respected.”

The RCMP and National Police Federation question how the Surrey Police Service build-up will now unfold.

Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, Commanding Officer of the BC RCMP noted that “this continues to be an unprecedented and complex process that will require time to ensure that the proper legal agreements and framework for a change of command plan, human resource strategy, and demobilization plan are completed.”

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McDonald, who was officer-in-charge of the Surrey RCMP prior to Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards taking the helm, added that the RCMP “will be seeking clarity and specifics from the city, province and federal government, along with the newly appointed Strategic Implementation Advisor, on the path forward.

“Our focus since the very beginning of the transition has been to ensure that public safety is not compromised. That focus will not change. Moving forward the stability in the delivery of police services and the retention of our members will be at the forefront of all planning.”

The NPF, meantime, called for “timeline certainty and respect for RCMP member careers” in a press release it issued on July 19.

Brian Sauvé, president of the NPF – which represents roughy 20,000 Mounties – said the transition process has “always been about politics over facts and evidence. Our members have been living and working in uncertainty since late 2018 and have been stabilizing a fledgling police service since July 2020. There is still no end in sight.

“Pending the City of Surrey’s response to this decision, we call on the Premier and the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General to prepare an expeditious transition plan that includes a clear and imminent end date for the Surrey RCMP,” Sauvé said, adding that the plan mustn’t prioritize SPS re-staffing “at the expense of RCMP vacancies Canada-wide.”

Sauvé also called on McDonald to make sure HR plans are drawn up for each Surrey Mountie that will reflect their individual “career aspirations and geographic postings of choice, which may be anywhere in Canada. Their dedication and diligence throughout this protracted exercise has been nothing short of professional, and it deserves our utmost support and respect.”

During a media briefing prior to Farnworth announcing his decision, senior bureaucrats in the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General told reporters the SPS has to date hired almost 400 police officers and support staff, including 39 new recruits, and it’s expected the transition could take from 18 months to three years to complete.

Farnworth echoed that, after making his announcement.

“I think it will probably take up to three years to do, the full total transition,” he said. “The move to a police of jurisdiction will probably happen sooner. What we have to ensure is things take place in an orderly fashion.”

Chief Constable Norm Lipinksi, of the SPS, figures the SPS could be Surrey’s police of jurisdiction within a year.

“The more efficient and effective we can be in completing this transition in a timely fashion, the more fiscally responsible this project will be for Surrey,” Lipinski said.

Meanwhile, Surrey Councillor Linda Annis is calling for a new provincial police training academy and “centre of excellence” to be built in Surrey.

“Now that the decision has been made to move forward with the Surrey Police Service, it makes good sense to jump in with both feet and push for a police training academy and centre of policing excellence right here in Surrey,” she said.

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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