Surrey residents can expect to spot an anomaly in their police force starting Wednesday.
That's when 29 Surrey Police Service (SPS) officers are expected to deploy alongside the Surrey RCMP as a first “boots on the ground” step to transitioning from the federally regulated department to the new municipal unit. The B.C. government approved the switch — championed by Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum — in February 2020.
McCallum initially pledged to have patrols starting in April 2021. The new force is now expected to fully deploy by late 2023 at the earliest.
It was anticipated that 50 SPS officers would be deployed this week; however, not all of them have federal security clearance to be with the RCMP. As of Oct. 18, SPS had hired 138 police officers, including 26 Surrey Mounties.
Officer recruitment has become an issue, as anticipated by critics. Other B.C. police departments, including Vancouver, have expressed concerns about recruiting existing officers. As such, the provincial government announced a cap of 200 officers that SPS can transfer from other municipal forces in 2022.
Last week, Vancouver city councillor Colleen Hardwick said the SPS is threatening public safety in other communities.
“The fact that so few Surrey RCMP are moving to the SPS means Doug McCallum is doing everything he can to recruit from other police departments, and that is a serious problem for public safety,” explained Hardwick. “Mayor McCallum thought Surrey RCMP officers would just move over to his municipal force, but that’s not happening. As a result, every other community’s public safety is being compromised as the Surrey Police Service tries to recruit across the region.”
Meanwhile, other significant matters about the transition remain unclear.
So far, the two entities have no plan in place to transition investigation files. No agreement exists at this time.
The SPS is also still standing up its own information technology system — the most costly component of the transition — after initial plans to utilize RCMP infrastructure fell through.
As for those one-time capital costs, SPS chief Norm Lipinski said the transition is budgeted for $64 million and it remains so.
However, operating costs are another matter.
Surrey RCMP Officer in Charge Brian Edwards said there is no plan yet as to when the RCMP department will wind down, with a likewise cut in contract costs.
With close to 150 officers on payroll now, costing an estimated $200,000 annually, the SPS is now paying $2.5 million in monthly officer salaries alone — operating costs not contemplated at the onset of the transition.
The phased, integrated transition has been agreed upon by the Surrey Policing Transition Trilateral Committee.
“A policing transition of this magnitude is unprecedented in Canada. It has required — and continues to require — collaboration and extensive planning between SPS and the RCMP, and between the three levels of government,” said Lipinski on Tuesday.
During this initial hybrid model, each SPS officer will first be paired up with a Surrey RCMP officer before responding to files; for the time being, they'll be in RCMP-branded vehicles.
While the public can expect to see officers in both the RCMP and SPS uniforms responding to calls for service, all contact information and police station locations remain the same. The public will continue to report crime and suspicious activity to the Surrey RCMP's non-emergency number at 604-599-0502 (911 for emergencies) or online.
“Our top priority throughout this transition is and will remain public safety,” said Edwards, who said officers have “mixed feelings” on the transition but remain dedicated to public safety.
Edwards and Lipinski would not comment specifically on an ongoing attempt by critics to halt the transition at the political level.
McCallum is facing Coun. Brenda Locke in the 2022 municipal election, with Locke calling for a local referendum on whether to cancel the transition. A recent, sanctioned petition campaign backed by the RCMP union saw over 42,000 Surrey voters sign in support of the referendum. Elections BC did not verify the signatures as it failed to qualify under provincial standards.
The union took aim at the city's ongoing hiring freeze for new Mounties, now entering its fourth year.
“With no plan yet in place, a real transition to Surrey Police Service is clearly not happening any time soon. What’s needed here is more police officers who have experience in and care about the people of Surrey — not new badges and uniforms on fewer police from other cities and regions,” said Brian Sauvé, President of the National Police Federation, via a statement late Tuesday.
“Residents of one of B.C.’s fastest-growing cities have not seen investment or growth in additional police officers or resources for three-plus years, and they’re now paying multi-million dollars more for dual police services.”