Surrey Police Service to keep hiring despite council vote to go with RCMP

SURREY, B.C. — The Surrey Police Service says it will continue hiring and deploying officers despite a vote by city council Monday to stick with RCMP and halt the transition to a municipal force.

Council voted 5-4 in favour of keeping the federal force, as Mayor Brenda Locke and the four councillors elected under her Surrey Connect banner made good on an election promise to end the transition.

The vote directs the police board to pause all new spending and hiring for the fledgling police service that was formally established in 2020 under former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum.

Next, city staff will put together a plan to re-establish the RCMP as the sole police force in the city that will address staffing and human resource implications.

The plan requires city council endorsement, then it would be sent to Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, for approval.

However, the Surrey Police Service says it won't stop hiring unless directed by the province because it remains bound to meet targets outlined in the police transition plan through May 2023.

"Until or unless we hear differently from the Province, SPS has an obligation to continue with the deployments laid out in the plan (and the related hiring to achieve those deployments) in order to maintain public safety in Surrey," spokesperson Lisa Eason said in an email.

The municipal force will also prepare a separate report for Farnworth, she said.

At the council meeting Monday, some councillors expressed concern about moving in any direction without a complete picture of costs and other consequences of either continuing forward or halting the transition.

Coun. Linda Annis called for a referendum so that voters could say directly what they think, but that amendment was voted down by council.

Coun. Mandeep Nagra questioned why costs have dominated the conversation, when public safety is about more than that.

"What about the governance model? What about the, you know, pros and cons of both the models, how they operate?"

Locke said many of the issues raised at council would be answered in the plan, including costs, and it would be made publicly available.

"We cannot be in a place where we're asking for opinion until we have that body of information," Locke said.

The staff report circulated ahead of Monday's meeting included a statement of guiding principles as well as an update on the status of the transition.

Progress to date has centred around the secondment of Surrey Police Service officers into the detachment under RCMP command. All RCMP policies and procedures continue to be used, it says.

"A significant amount of work to plan and deliver the transition must still be initiated," the staff report says, including determining how Mounties will serve under municipal police command and how files, equipment and computer systems will be transferred.

The staff report put the 2022 policing operations budget at about $195 million, including $96.7 million for RCMP and $72.5 million for the Surrey Police Service, with the remainder going to city police support services.

However, it estimates the project is about $20 million over budget, due to a high number of SPS officers not deployed on the front lines.

"As a result, the City is paying for administrative overhead in two police agencies," the city report says.

The Surrey Police Service went on the offensive ahead of the meeting, issuing a press release saying it hadn't been consulted by city staff and questioning figures in the staff report.

While the staff report cites 154 deployed Surrey Police Service officers, the municipal force says it has hired 315, the majority of whom are awaiting deployment or working in administrative roles.

"The Surrey Police Board (SPB) and Surrey Police Service (SPS) are expressing concern that Surrey City Council will be considering a report this evening and potentially determining the future of Surrey’s policing transition without comprehensive information on SPS staffing levels or the financial implications associated with reversing the transition," the statement says.

The municipal force claims terminating the transition would result in $107 million in sunk costs plus $81.5 million in job termination costs.

A statement from Anita Huberman, president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, says the board is pleased with council's decision.

“We have advocated for keeping the RCMP in Surrey because we have always been concerned with the impact the transition would have on taxes and public safety to Surrey and to the rest of B.C.," Huberman says in the statement.

She urges the B.C. government to act quickly in response to "this urgent, pivotal time in Surrey," saying "public safety matters to business."

— By Amy Smart and Beth Leighton in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2022.

The Canadian Press