The decision Wednesday by B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to direct the City of Surrey to continue setting up its own municipal police force will have an effect on the Vancouver Police Department’s recruiting drive.
But what type of an effect remains to be determined as Deputy Chief Howard Chow, Vancouver Police Union president Ralph Kaisers and Mayor Ken Sim discussed Thursday in answering questions about Farnworth’s decision.
The VPD and its union have previously raised concerns about losing Vancouver officers to the Surrey force, which Farnworth said Wednesday will replace the existing RCMP service in B.C.’s second largest city.
Chow estimated “just under 40” VPD officers have left the department in recent years to embark on new careers in Surrey. He qualified that number by saying some of those officers had retired from the VPD before joining the Surrey force.
“By all accounts, it’s a very small percentage, but it's something that we're keeping an eye on and something that's obviously a concern for all police agencies in the region,” Chow said.
At the same time, the department has seen some former VPD officers leave the Surrey force to return to Vancouver. Other officers hired by Surrey have also since joined the VPD, largely because of the uncertainty of whether the new force would be halted.
Chow didn’t immediately have a head count.
'Exodus of members'
Now that Farnworth’s decision has removed that uncertainty, Kaisers said he will watch to see how many Vancouver officers decide to make the move to the Surrey force.
“I do know that a number of members have been holding off with making a decision around going to Surrey because of the uncertainty of what was going to happen in Surrey,” Kaisers said.
“We're all here at the VPD kind of sitting back wondering now what's going to happen and whether or not there is some form of exodus of members to the Surrey Police Service.”
Asked what might attract VPD officers to Surrey, Kaisers noted many officers live south of the Fraser River, which would translate to a shorter commute. The other significant issue is that Surrey officers are currently paid more than Vancouver officers.
Kaisers said Surrey officers received a three per cent pay raise earlier this year. Vancouver still has to negotiate a new contract, but Kaisers wouldn’t say what the union will request in bargaining for an increase.
“We, here in Vancouver, do expect to certainly be the highest paid police officers in B.C.,” he said.
Sim, who doubles as chairperson of the Vancouver Police Board, campaigned last year on hiring 100 police officers. He and his ABC Vancouver colleagues unlocked funds to allow that to happen, with the department so far hiring 82 officers this year.
“What I can tell you is the Vancouver Police Department is a destination organization, and people are attracted to the VPD,” the mayor said. “And we have an amazing team that are recruiting actively, and I think we're going to be fine.”
Ian Macdonald, a Surrey Police Service (SPS) media liaison, confirmed in an email Wednesday that the force hired former VPD officers, while at the same time losing officers to Vancouver during the “pause” — the uncertainty of whether the RCMP would remain in place instead of the new department.
“I don’t have current numbers at hand, but I do think that SPS and VPD will be attractive places for policing employment for a variety of reasons,” said Macdonald, a former Abbotsford police officer.
“As far as moving forward is concerned, we will need to reinvigorate our recruiting and hiring that has been paused for so many months. I’d expect some VPD members to apply with us again when that happens.”
That said, he added, under the direction of the province, the Surrey force’s growth is to be measured to ensure “that we don’t cause disruptions to other agencies in B.C.” He noted “a good number” of officers hired in Surrey are from out of province, particularly Ontario and Alberta.
Chow said the VPD has also seen an increase over the last year in experienced officers hired, as well as new recruits.
A 189-page report released in June 2019 by the City of Surrey highlighted the benefits of Surrey adopting a municipal police force, including potential “synergies” between the VPD and new Surrey force.
For example, the VPD has its own emergency response teams, canine unit, homicide squad, forensic video unit, forensic identification unit and collision investigation team.
“These VPD resources,” the report said, “could replace the integrated teams currently in place in Surrey, subject to an arrangement where Surrey would pay an annual cost-recovery fee to the VPD.”
Neither the VPD nor the Surrey Police Service would say Thursday whether that scenario would unfold, noting the government’s decision is fresh and full transition from RCMP to municipal force will take some time.
“We currently are an IHIT contributing agency for example, and where integrated teams are in place, we will evaluate our resources and expertise,” Macdonald said.
“But certainly I believe our specialty teams will look similar to VPD’s once the transition is completed, based on the size of our organization at that time and the population that we serve.”
A B.C. government news release Wednesday said the RCMP continues to experience a critical vacancy problem in British Columbia and across Canada. This issue is longstanding, and the RCMP has been unable to produce officers to fill vacant positions or implement solutions to meet expected growth.
“The Surrey Police Service is the only path forward to ensuring the safety of the people of Surrey, as well as people across the province, and for putting in place the long-term, stable policing they need," Farnworth said in the release.
“Effective collaboration between the city, the Surrey Police Service and the RCMP is essential to continue the transition, and I have made it clear to all parties that I expect them to work together to achieve our common goal of safety for people in Surrey.”