There will be no quick answer to the uncertainty around the future of policing in Surrey, B.C.
Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said Thursday the province will need more information to decide on whether to disband the fledgling Surrey Police Service and keep the RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction.
“What we need is to have the information that ensures we have safe, effective and adequate policing not only in Surrey but the rest of the province,” Farnworth said.
Stopping the transition was a key election promise of new Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke.
Last month, the City of Surrey, the SPS and the Surrey RCMP all submitted reports to Farnworth’s office making their case for whether the city should continue the transition to a municipal force or stay with the Mounties.
'Where are the gaps'
Farnworth said his ministry had completed a comprehensive review of those reports, adding it was “clear that considerable work has gone into developing these plans and reports,” but that the policing issue affected not just Surrey but the whole province.
“The Director of Police Services has determined that additional information is required to inform further consideration of the matter and has made a request to the parties for that information,” Farnworth said.
“The policing transition in Surrey is unprecedented and complex and requires a full and in-depth analysis. I am grateful for the work all parties have undertaken to date. We have asked for their timely responses and look forward to continued collaboration.”
Farnworth said the province needs more details from the city about SPS demobilization and the number of RCMP officers it would need to re-staff. It also wants information about re-staffing from the Mounties, along with more details on anticipated growth within the RCMP.
And Farnworth said the province needs information from the SPS on strategies for remaining areas of work to become the police of jurisdiction.
It was not clear how much of a delay collecting the new information could cause in making a final decision.
Farnworth said part of the issue was to bridge the large differences in the positions of each organization.
“The work being done in my ministry is doing just that, to look at what is accurate — where are the gaps in Surrey’s plan, where are the gaps in the RCMP’s plan,” he said.
“I would like to see it done as expeditiously as possible, but also it needs to be thorough.”
In a statement Tuesday, the Surrey Police Board said it has been “fully transparent and timely in its reporting to the provincial government.
“It is unfortunate that a matter of such critical importance to the community is being delayed, but we appreciate the work of the province in trying to move this process forward as quickly as possible, recognizing a final decision will have implications not only for Surrey but also the entire province.”
'We need to act'
Surrey’s mayor slammed the delay.
“The city is now considering its options as I do not believe the province’s reason to delay its decision is justified. The inability to make a timely decision is unfair to SPS and RCMP officers and their families. It also impacts the city’s ability to complete our budget for 2023,” Locke said.
Locke said the city and the RCMP had submitted comprehensive plans to the province, which “clearly and thoroughly” showed the way forward.
Any delay would result in more costs to Surrey taxpayers, she said, while leaving the city in limbo on how to bolster its police resources, adding that the province had suggested it would have a decision ready by the end of January.
She said the city remained fully committed to retaining the RCMP.
“Now we need to act to get more information and an action plan in place. The city is ready to act. The province needs to do the right thing and confirm the city has the right to this decision,” Locke said.
BC Liberal Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford accused Farnworth on equivocating over who was actually in charge of the final decision: the province or the city.
Meanwhile, the delay was affecting residents and police, he said.
“There has been uncertainty on this issue, it’s very polarizing for the citizens of Surrey every single day — I understand the need for more information, but what I was expecting from the minister today was least some timelines,” he said.
“There are RCMP members, there are Surrey Police members that are out there every single day protecting our community, and they are going home with that uncertainty, and they deserve an answer on when that will be finalized.”
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, who spearheaded the switch to a municipal force, said the province was right to ask for additional information, given the need to ensure public safety in the city.
However, given how far along the transition already is he said he does not believe the SPS can be disbanded.
“By the end of May, we will have well over 50 per cent of the officers out there, and the command changes at that stage,” he said.
Earlier this week, the SPS announced it had deployed another 18 officers to work alongside Surrey RCMP. The department says it has already onboarded 333 police officers, 205 of whom were already involved in policing operations.
“The province gave us the green light and then a new council came in on the very small margin of one vote, five-four wanted to stop the process,” McCallum said.
“I don’t think it can be reversed. There’s a lot of money that has been put into it already.”
Read more: Surrey Police Service makes its case to province as decision on policing transition looms
Surrey city council voted to move ahead with disbanding the SPS late last year, and the city sent a framework outlining its RCMP retention plan to the province in mid-December.
The 88-page report concluded completing the transition to the municipal force would cost just under $1.2 billion between 2023 and 2027 while retaining the RCMP would cost $924.8 million.
The plan was drafted by a joint project team led by two former senior RCMP officers, Peter German and Tonia Enger.
It also outlined that if the SPS was scrapped, the Surrey RCMP would need to bring on another 161 members to maintain its funded staffing contingent of 734 officers.
The SPS and the Surrey Police Board have disputed the city’s figures.
It argued that by the end of December “unrecoverable sunk costs” related to the transition were expected to reach $107 million.
Terminating the transition by January would result in a projected investment loss of another $81.5 million, they argued.