Surrey city council is set to decide Monday if it wants to continue transitioning its police force to the nascent Surrey Police Service or examine reversing course and maintaining the Surrey RCMP.
The balance of power on Surrey’s new nine-member council indicates the latter option will be chosen, as Mayor Brenda Locke and her four Surrey Connect councillors pledged to reverse the transition during the municipal election campaign last month.
Should council choose to maintain the RCMP, it would then vote on a future de-transition plan, developed by staff, for final approval by Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. And, council would direct the Surrey Police Board to immediately pause all new hiring and expenditures pending further council direction.
A Nov. 14 report to council from general manager of corporate services Rob Costanzo shows that 154 Surrey Police Service (SPS) officers are working with the RCMP, which remains the “Police of Jurisdiction,” or official municipal force. This represents 21 per cent of the 734 on-duty police officers at this moment.
As such, the city has been paying a hybrid model for policing, with $72.5 million earmarked in 2022 for SPS and $96.7 million for the RCMP (plus $25.6 million for the city’s police support services). The $194.8 million is $20.6 million over budget for the year, according to the report.
“Key contributing drivers of the unfavourable forecast include a higher than anticipated number of SPS members that are not deployed into front line policing. As a result, the city is paying for administrative overhead in two police agencies,” noted the report.
Such a hybrid model has been needed so the forces can transition. However, such costs were never envisioned in the original transition plan put forth to the public — only about $45 million was originally estimated as part of one-time transition costs. Those costs are now pegged officially at about $64 million.
Locke told Glacier Media unknown costs have been a chief concern of hers when she was a councillor opposing the plan for the past four years.
“This has become a runaway train in terms of dollars spent,” said Locke.
“We have never voted to increase that budget and it’s just burning through money. It has to stop because there’s no good prediction on where it’s going to land. We get no good information from the board, so it’s been very problematic that way.”
And so it’s unclear how much the transition may cost as the overlap may continue for at least the next two years as SPS fills vacancies.
The report indicates much planned work for the transition is still incomplete.
“A significant amount of work to plan and deliver the transition must still be initiated, including determining how RCMP members will serve under SPS command and how files, equipment and IM/IT systems will be transferred.”
Glacier Media has tracked at least one expenditure — the information technology (IT) system, which is considered the largest one-time expense.
The IT system was estimated in 2019 to cost $7.5 million, but SPS Chief Norm Lipinski subsequently estimated in April 2021 that costs stood around $21 million. Last month Glacier Media requested the latest estimate with the City of Surrey but was denied any documentation under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, with staff claiming disclosure would be harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body and intergovernmental relations or negotiations.
However, on Monday, the Surrey Police Board and SPS issued a joint statement claiming “The IT buildout of critical components required for SPS to be police of jurisdiction is approximately 50% complete” and “SPS has spent $16.8M of the projected $32.5M on IT.”
The board says the $32.5 million is still part of the $64-million one-time costs. It’s thus unclear what has been cut from the expenses.
The SPS claims “$108.3 million in salaries/benefits and capital/equipment investments have been invested into SPS and the policing transition as of Oct. 31. And employment terminations could cost as much as $81.5 million."
Locke said moving the civilian support staff should not be a concern and the RCMP claim a plan is in place for SPS officers to join its force, if willing.
But according to the Surrey Police Union, 94 per cent of members would not join the Mounties. The union claims the transition is much more entrenched than the report indicates as 315 officers have already been hired (so about half are undeployed).
However, the report states the SPS officers would likely transition easily to RCMP on a permanent basis since these officers have required RCMP clearance to work at Surrey RCMP during the transition period.
“The RCMP would focus on hiring the SPS officers currently deployed to Surrey detachment. This would provide certainty for these officers and allow them to continue working in Surrey, in their current positions,” the report states.
The transition, or de-transition, has thrown big, unanswered questions at the region as far as officer management and deployment goes. The Vancouver Police Department is seeking to hire 100 new officers and Locke has said it may make sense for at least some SPS officers to go to Vancouver; however, there’s no clear plan on how that may work.
The report states the de-transition plan will fully outline the total costs associated with scrapping the SPS. It also states the City of Surrey and Surrey RCMP would work on a better oversight model, such as “an enhanced local police oversight committee.”
A key concern of outgoing mayor Doug McCallum, the SPS architect, was the lack of a local police board. The Surrey RCMP is also Canada's largest municipal force; the Mounties typically only police small communities and federal matters, especially outside of B.C., which has no provincial police force.
Locke has supported the notion of a local board for the Surrey RCMP and says municipal boards have not necessarily produced transparency nor local empowerment. She notes Vancouver city council’s budget was overthrown by the unelected provincial director of police services in December 2020 after a proposed freeze.
Meanwhile, Coun. Linda Annis is calling on a referendum.
“This issue has become too divisive, too costly, and too much like a political football,” said Annis in a statement Monday.
“It’s time to put an end to all of this by giving Surrey voters their say, allowing them to make the final decision about who polices our community. Doug McCallum never gave Surrey residents their say, and unfortunately, Mayor Brenda Locke seems to be headed down the same path, trying to stop the transition without including the people of Surrey. The fact is 72 per cent of the people who voted in the municipal election did not vote for Brenda Locke, so any suggestion that there is some sort of overwhelming mandate is ridiculous.”