Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke on Friday doubled down on her council’s pledge to keep the RCMP, despite the province recommending to continue with the transition to a municipal force.
On Friday morning, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced the government is recommending the city move forward with the transition to the Surrey Police Service and offered money to assist with that transition, as long as the city went with that option.
However, Locke said this decision shows her that Farnworth is more concerned about politics than public safety.
“The uncertainty around policing in Surrey has gone on too far and too long,” Locke said. “The B.C. Police Act states clearly the choice of police is under the purview of the municipality. The solicitor general has publicly stated in the past and so has the premier that that is Surrey’s choice to make.
“And council made that decision. They made it five months ago and that decision has not changed.”
Farnworth said at a previous press conference Friday that a move away from the RCMP will ensure public safety in the city.
“Everyone deserves to be safe in their community and all British Columbians deserve secure, stable policing they can count on,” Farnworth said on Friday.
“The people of Surrey are very frustrated by years of uncertainty over this debate, but we must move forward without reducing police presence when we need it the most. Now is not the time to put public safety at risk in Surrey or in any community in the province.”
The announcement means the city will make the final decision, based on the province’s recommendation.
Farnworth said the province will offer financial assistance to help Surrey taxpayers manage the costs of the transition, though he has long said previously the government would not do so.
“This path forward will ensure safer policing for all regions of the province, including the people of Surrey, and provincial support will help keep them from paying significant property tax increases,” Farnworth said.
Locke accused Farnworth of being more concerned about politics than public safety in the city.
“I want to stress that after all the time, waiting for a decision from the solicitor general, what we have received today from him is a recommendation,” she said. “That is a recommendation with strings attached. The solicitor general has also repeatedly said that there will be no new money for the transition. Yet at the 11th hour, there is financial support from the province, so long as our decision is the SPS.”
The province’s recommendation comes after the provincial director of police services’ report on plans put forward by the city, the RCMP and the Surrey Police Service.
The transition to the SPS is already well underway, the province said, with about 400 officers and support staff on the payroll.
The SPS plan to eventually hire 734 officers would cost about $30 million more per year than staying with the RCMP, the province added, while severance costs for SPS officers, if Surrey were to revert back to the RCMP, would cost about $72 million.
The RCMP currently has about 1,500 job vacancies throughout B.C.
Reverting back to the RCMP would exacerbate the challenges faced by municipalities and Indigenous communities by increasing demand for officers and aggravating public-safety concerns, the province said.
The NDP government said it was also concerned about the RCMP’s current retention and recruitment challenges, saying keeping it would increase demand for officers and potentially cause staffing issues elsewhere in B.C.
Police staffing in Surrey is governed by a trilateral agreement between the city and the provincial and federal governments.
“We know the expectations of people in Surrey are that when they pick up the phone and dial 911 that a police officer shows up and assists them with the crisis that they’re facing,” Premier David Eby said on Thursday.
“And that in fact is the provincial government’s responsibility here.”