Staff report lays out path for keeping RCMP in Surrey

An RCMP badge is pictured on the left, next to a Surrey Police Service badge. The transition back to the RCMP needs provincial approval to move forward. (Ben Nelms/CBC, Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)
An RCMP badge is pictured on the left, next to a Surrey Police Service badge. The transition back to the RCMP needs provincial approval to move forward. (Ben Nelms/CBC, Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press - image credit)

A report from city staff in Surrey says a plan to stick with the RCMP as its police force, instead of the fledgling Surrey Police Service (SPS), could be approved by the province by January with a "ramp down" of SPS beginning March 2023.

The report — the second created this November over the issue that defined the municipal election — will be presented to Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and council Monday evening as part of the city council meeting agenda.

While the report provides more detail about how the city will try to keep the RCMP, it is mostly for council to endorse a framework for this goal, and to direct staff to devise a final plan that will be voted on in December.

The transition to an independent, municipal force for Surrey was initiated by a council motion in November 2018, shortly after Doug McCallum's election to a fourth term as mayor.

On Nov. 14, council narrowly voted to officially keep the RCMP as its police force and freeze hiring and spending in relation to the SPS.

That decision was based on a previous eight-page report that laid out some budget considerations, such as an estimated $21-million budget shortfall related to policing by the end the year, but not a cost estimate for the entire transition.

LISTEN | Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke on how she will keep the RCMP in the city: 

The new, nine-page report, part of the 1,569-page council package, is also light on the financing of policing Surrey.

It says staying on course with the SPS, which will require completing slow-moving legal agreements, could result in added costs.

"The budget and practical implications of a holding pattern on deployment and demobilization while these legal agreements are prepared and signed off are significant and will require the City to continue to fund through most of 2023 a complement of non-deployed SPS police officers far in excess of the City's ability to pay," it reads.

Surrey is currently preparing its operating and capital budgets for 2023, with $202.4 million in the forecast for policing operations in 2023.

The city is also figuring out how much money it will need for one-time severance payments and other costs related to the devolution of the SPS.

573 RCMP, 168 SPS officers

Perhaps the biggest challenge the new report raises is how to keep nearly 740 officers deployed in the city. There are currently 573 RCMP officers on the front lines with 168 SPS officers.

"To achieve the funded strength of 734 RCMP Members, the RCMP will need to add approximately 161 members to offset the current complement of SPS Assigned Officers," reads the report.

The report said the RCMP is focusing on five areas of recruitment, with the top being recruitment of SPS officers currently deployed under RCMP command.

The Surrey Police Union has said the vast majority of its members would not join the RCMP.

If council endorses the report, staff will present a final plan for maintaining the RCMP in Surrey, for a vote by council on Dec. 12., which would then be sent to the province for approval.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has said it will take considered deliberation to ensure there is safe and effective policing in Surrey.

A "joint project team," which includes former RCMP leaders Peter German and Tonia Enger as consultants, is guiding work for a final report.

German served with the RCMP for 31 years and is best known for being hired by the province to review allegations of money laundering in casinos.

Enger, meanwhile, served with the RCMP for more than 29 years and is known as an expert in RCMP contract policing.

CBC News reached out to Locke and the SPS for comment. Both said they would not comment on the newest report until it was presented on Monday.

Ethics commissioner comeback

Part of the council package also includes a report on how to go about bringing back an ethics commissioner to Surrey.

As part of her mayoral campaign, Locke promised to reinstate the position, created in 2019 to ensure transparency on city business.

"We have to improve our ethics commissioner bylaw, so that in my opinion, things are more transparent," Locke said.

The contract for the job ended in July when council, under former mayor Doug McCallum, directed city staff not to appoint a new commissioner.

Justine Boulin//CBC
Justine Boulin//CBC

Among potential changes to the job is requiring the public posting of resolutions to complaints.

Since 2020, the ethics commissioner's office has received 71 complaints, 59 of which were resolved and closed, but only two of which were posted publicly on the city's website.

Locke said the commissioner received several complaints from council members about one another — something she believes should be resolved through mediation with the commissioner's help.

Staff is asking council to decide if it wants to re-appoint the former commissioner or approve a process to seek out and hire a new one.