Surrey police still in pause mode, can’t hire officers to boost force

Still no progress on a new budget to let city force resume recruiting

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Nearly two months after the B.C. government ordered Surrey to continue a transition to a municipal police force, the Surrey Police Service says it continues to be in pause mode, unable to go on an active recruiting drive or hire new officers.

Mayor Brenda Locke’s majority council had voted in December of last year to stick with the RCMP, reversing a decision by the previous council.

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Surrey Police Service spokesman Ian MacDonald said Friday that while a staffing rollout plan is being worked on with the province, Ottawa and the city, one does not exist now.

A first human resources plan expired in the spring, and a new plan would outline how quickly the municipal force could add officers and how fast the RCMP detachment would wind down.

The Surrey RCMP confirmed this, noting a new plan will need to be developed to set the pace and timeline for RCMP phaseout.

The human resources plan would also need to be underpinned by a budget from the City of Surrey.

Another issue is the City of Surrey has still not definitively responded to the B.C. government’s order and stated publicly whether it is on board or whether it will fight the provincial decision.

After a nearly two-month break, the Surrey council is set to meet on Monday. The Surrey police issue is not listed on the public agenda for the day’s sessions.

“We, obviously, are waiting for that ultimate direction and agreement that we can remove ourselves from pause and do what will be necessary to facilitate a co-ordinated advancement of the transition,” said MacDonald.

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On Friday, in a written response, RCMP assistant commissioner Brian Edwards, who heads the Surrey detachment, said they are awaiting further direction on next steps.

“The RCMP is awaiting plans for a path forward, that would outline key areas still required for the policing transition such as a human resource strategy, demobilization plan, proper legal agreements, asset transfers and framework for a change of command,” said Edwards.

There are nearly 400 officers and support staff hired for the Surrey Police Service and more than $100 million spent in a transition that has been underway for more than 2½ years. More officers are needed on the streets and in investigations to take over jurisdiction from the RCMP. To complete the transition, the municipal force needs to hire more than 400 additional police officers.

The transition was halted when Locke was elected as mayor in the fall of 2022 with a majority council. She had campaigned on halting the transition and sticking with the RCMP, largely over cost issues. The most recent city staff estimates peg a municipal force costing $30 million more a year than the RCMP.

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MacDonald noted the uncertainty continues to have a toll on the officers and staff, both for the municipal force and, he believes, the RCMP.

Since the election last fall, 17 officers have left the municipal force, five of those more recently, some of them because of that uncertainty, he said.

Edwards said no RCMP officers have left the Surrey detachment since the B.C. government’s decision.

On Friday, Locke was unavailable for an interview, said city staff.

She has not said publicly yet whether she will fight the province’s decision.

The province has offered $150 million to help with the transition, but Locke has implied that it is not enough.

She has also called for reports from the province to justify their decision, but provincial officials have told Postmedia they will not be released because information was received under a non-disclosure agreement.

B.C. Ministry of Public Safety officials did not respond to questions on the status of the transition.

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Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has said the province made its decision to avoid a crisis in policing in Surrey and to avoid exacerbating existing policing shortages in other parts of the province. He said the decision was about the safety of Surrey and the province and not related to a larger policing discussion on whether B.C. should dump the RCMP and move to a provincial police force.

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Farnworth has said he is confident of the province’s legal authority to make the decision.

He has also said he will introduce legislation this fall to ensure that a city’s decision to form a municipal force and then reverse that decision cannot happen again.

The B.C. government has hired Jessica McDonald, the former B.C. Hydro CEO, to stickhandle the transition and ensure it goes smoothly. Public Safety Ministry staff said she is not giving interviews.

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