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Criticism hurled at pace of Surrey police transition as report finds ‘no clear plan’

Click to play video: 'Locke chairs tense Surrey Police Board meeting'
Locke chairs tense Surrey Police Board meeting
A tense afternoon at Surrey City Hall as mayor Brenda Locke chaired a meeting of the Surrey Police Board, the first one since the B.C. government confirmed the SPS is here to stay. Troy Charles reports on what was discussed and the awkwardness that surfaced – Jul 27, 2023

As seven new constables begin work at the Surrey Police Service — its fifth group of rookie recruits — one municipal councillor is criticizing the pace of Surrey’s hotly-debated police transition.

In a progress report on the process, municipal staff claim there is “no clear plan or any supporting documents in place” to carry out provincial instructions to phase out the RCMP and bring the fledgling SPS into full force.

Among the missing items, according to staff — a joint human resources plan to guide deployments and demobilization, confirmed plans for asset sharing and transfer of files between forces, legal frameworks that would support the RCMP working under the command of a municipal police department, and more.

“I get it, the mayor wanted to keep the RCMP, but that ship has sailed,” Coun. Linda Annis said in a Monday news release.

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“City staff will move mountains if mayor and council ask them to, and that’s what we need when it comes to the police transition … Having two police departments is costing our taxpayers an added $266,000 per day.”

The cost of maintaining both police departments in Surrey is an estimated $8 million per month.

Click to play video: 'Farnworth and Locke meet over future of Surrey policing'
Farnworth and Locke meet over future of Surrey policing

In a Monday interview, Mayor Brenda Locke declined to respond to Annis’ allegations, other than to question her understanding of the process and suggest she do “her own homework.”

Locke agreed, however, “there is no plan” to support the transition to the SPS.

“We’re waiting for the province to explain their vision, their plan moving forward,” Locke said. “I have not heard (back) from one of the six letters that I sent to him, to the premier and to the province’s advisor, Jessica McDonald.

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“It’s really important that the public understand, this is not a Surrey-only path forward. There are three orders of government in this.”

Click to play video: 'Surrey Police Service hiring spree could leave other agencies short'
Surrey Police Service hiring spree could leave other agencies short

In July, after many months of back-and-forth, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth ordered the city to phase out the RCMP amid concerns that replenishing it could tighten resources in places where Mounties are in short supply. He said Surrey failed to prove it could keep the RCMP without compromising safety elsewhere, and offered $150 million to support a return to the SPS.

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Monday’s report, however, finds Farnworth’s offering is unlikely to cover anticipated costs. As of June 30, year-to-date, the SPS had already cost the municipality $34.5 million in expenditures.

The minister refuted the claim there there is “no plan” in place to move forward with the SPS and said he expects work on the file to pick up now that the summer has passed. A “significant amount of work” is already underway, he added.

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“There’s a trilateral table in place involving both the city, the province and the RCMP on moving forward with the transition,” Farnworth said in an interview.

“You’re still looking at probably 18 months to two years for the full transition to take place. As I said, this is complex.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. government directs City of Surrey to move forward with transition to SPS'
B.C. government directs City of Surrey to move forward with transition to SPS

Since Farnworth brought the hammer down on July 19, he and Locke have met to discuss the transition.

The city, however, says it’s still seeking clarity on the mandate and proposed authorities of Farnworth’s appointed strategic implementation advisor for the transition, Jessica McDonald.

McDonald is to aid parties with dispute resolution, communication and meeting timelines.

Locke campaigned in October 2022 on a promise to return the RCMP to the police of jurisdiction in Surrey, reversing the course laid out by her predecessor. While she initially supported the creation of the SPS as a councillor, she backtracked within two years, citing transparency concerns and the taxpayer burden.

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She fought vehemently to keep the RCMP, even after a provincial report recommended Surrey keep the SPS in April.

The mayor has lambasted Farnworth’s decision and its ramifications for Surrey taxpayers, and decried the persistent redaction of certain portions of B.C.’s report on the transition — containing sensitive information — as lacking transparency.

Farnworth has rejected the allegation, stating that the documents contain numbers on policing in “literally every community around the province” that cannot be made public for safety reasons.

The pair continue to present vastly different narratives of their level of communication and co-operation.

Click to play video: 'Surrey RCMP ‘restaffing’ progress report'
Surrey RCMP ‘restaffing’ progress report

Locke has also taken aim at the Surrey Police Board, which she chairs, accusing its members on July 26 of “posturing,” and making it “a deliberate position that they build a wall and even offend the City of Surrey through their work.”

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Some members had previously raised concerns about Locke’s bias in favour of the RCMP. The next police board meeting is Sept. 27.

An independent report commissioned by the province found that keeping the SPS would cost Surrey taxpayers about $30 million more per year than keeping the RCMP.

Meanwhile, the force has continued limited hiring activities with approval from the mayor and council. In addition to the seven recruits hired on Sept. 8, nine experienced officers were recently brought into the fold to fill vacancies on the frontline.

In July, the City of Surrey extended an agreement allowing SPS members to continue to deploy with Surrey RCMP into September. That agreement still needs to be re-extended, according to Monday’s report.

The city has already begun its public consultation process for its 2024 budget, with further consultation on the five-year financial plan to take place in the coming weeks. New numbers on the costs of the police transition over time are expected to be released after the establishment of a joint financial management committee.

The report goes before the mayor and council on Monday night. McDonald, SPS Chief Const. Norm Lipinski, and Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards of the Surrey RCMP were invited to attend.

— with files from Janet Brown

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