People want to know when the Surrey Police Service will replace the Surrey RCMP as this city’s police department of jurisdiction. But Ian MacDonald, spokesman for the SPS, says that’s a difficult question to answer given it can’t be answered by the SPS alone.
“We could pick a date but we don’t get to do that. That’s not how this works,” MacDonald told the Now-Leader. “In the reality of what this transition is, not the theoretical plans that were made years ago, but the practical reality now with the three levels of government and the collaborative effort between the RCMP and SPS, everything has to happen in terms of an agreement.
“Can we call this specific time and date? No, because this is not an an SPS project alone. This is a project that involves many stakeholders and so we are progressing despite that,” MacDonald said. “If people are looking for us to be able to look into the crystal ball and then unilaterally make the call, that’s not how this transition has been set up and so I think it’s an unrealistic expectation. But what I can say is as we achieve each of those landmarks and milestones, and achieve many of the things the detractors have said we would never achieve, we move closer to the point where ultimately the province will be in the position where they’ll say ‘OK, police of jurisdiction will take place and can we agree that this will be the date.’”
A redacted Surrey Policing Transition Plan, at 189 pages, was released to the public on June 3, 2019 and according to that plan the “projected ‘go-live’ date” for the new Surrey Police Department was April 1, 2021 with its implementation to take take place over three separate city budget years, in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
But what’s playing out in 2022 falls short of those 2019 expectations.
The 2019 plan indicated roughly 80 per cent of all Surrey Police Service patrol officers – sergeants and constables – should be “hired, trained and deployable” by the transition date. “This means that most patrol districts will be operating in the short term at 80 per cent of their authorized strength. As noted previously, this is a first approximation,” the plan states.
Under the subhead Highlights of the Proposed Operating Model, the 2019 plan forecast the deployment of 16 per cent more frontline patrol officers, with 84 per cent of them constables. “The proposed Surrey PD operating model includes a staffing increase of five per cent and consists of 1,150 employees: 805 police officers, 325 civilian positions, and 20 Community Safety Personnel (CSP),” it states, while noting that the Surrey RCMP’s strength is 843 Mounties as of 2019.
MacDonald noted that the 2019 plan was mapped out before the chief constable was hired in November 2020 and the Surrey Police Board was appointed in June 2020. “When you’re originally specing-out plans you need to have a plan, you need to have an objective,” he pointed out. “But it’s a fluid document in the early stages until you get some of those key components in place. The other thing that has become very predominant through this transition is everything has to be run through the three levels of government and the coordinated effort between the RCMP and SPS.”
“That doesn’t happen within a vacuum.”
MacDonald noted that last year, the SPS argued it could take on up to 400 more police officers in 2022 but the province “weighed in and said, well, we appreciate that you could do that but in order to keep the ecosystem in good shape, in order to make sure that there’s balance, we’re actually going to reduce that number.”
As a result, a 175-officer target for 2022 was arrived at by the Surrey Policing Transition Trilateral Committee (SPTTC), represented by three levels of government, bringing the total to 225 SPS officers to be deployed under the command of Surrey RCMP Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards by the end of this year.
Melissa Granum, executive director of the Surrey Police Board, said the reasoning behind the 175 cap was to maintain “stabilization” of policing in the Lower Mainland.
A redacted Human Resources Strategy and Plan report to the trilateral committee, dated April 5, 2022, outlined an “anticipated total” of 295 SPS officers “to be deployed by the first week of May 2023” while 297 RCMP “Regular Members are expected to be demobilized from the Surrey RCMP Municipal Police Unit by May 2023.”
Granum said the current expectation is the RCMP will be demobilizing between 175 and 195 Surrey Mounties in that same time.
Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, in charge of the SPS, told the Now-Leader on Aug. 5, 2021 that as more SPS officers report for duty and the scales eventually tip, “it makes sense” there would be a change of command.
“We haven’t thought that far ahead,” Lipinski said at the time. “Who knows, there could be dual command, I’m not sure, but it is clear if there is one commander, but there’s a number of different options that we can explore and we haven’t quite gone there yet as far as our discussions are concerned.
“I say to people who tell me ‘When is the transition?’ well, the transition starts on November 30 (2021) if not before, because we are, as we build up, they scale down. That is the transition.”
Meantime, the 2019 Surrey Policing Transition Plan indicated that “while the transition framework seeks to have the Surrey PD staffed for the go-live date of April 2021, a staggered approach to bring the Surrey PD into full operations could be utilized, if required.”
Such a “staggered approach” would involve Surrey’s five policing districts being “progressively transitioned into being policed by Surrey PD officers” while Mounties continue to police these neighbourhoods after the go-live date.
”In effect, this would result in these frontline RCMP officers being temporarily seconded to the Surrey PD to ensure a smooth transition that supports public safety,” the report recommends. “While the transition framework recommends that the Surrey PD assume frontline operations on April 1, 2021, the potential for a staggered approach can be utilized as a risk mitigation strategy to ensure the successful transition to a municipal policing model.
Asked if such a staggered approach is being considered, MacDonald replied, “I don’t believe that it is. Currently we have SPS officers operating in every district in Surrey. Again these ideas – and I don’t fault anybody – basically you’re going to the drawing board and saying, how could it happen? But I would suggest strongly since the hiring of Chief Lipinski, and since the establishment of the Surrey Police Board, now we have actual people that are guiding the progress of the police service, not police department, and it’s no longer theoretical, it’s practical.”
Is the Surrey Police Service still expected to have 805 police officers, all told? “I would say we’re going to be north of 800,” MacDonald replied. “We know that Surrey is a diverse and growing city in the province and so I would suggest strongly that we will be north of 800 but the actual facts and figures will ultimately come down to the recommendations of the Surrey Police Board.”
According to the 2019 report, it’s expected approximately 100 Surrey RCMP investigators “will need to remain embedded in Surrey PD” to complete investigations that began before the transition date and that these RCMP officers will be “phased out as investigations are concluded. It is expected that fewer than 10 officers will remain nine months after the transition and no RCMP officer should be required more than one year after the transition date.”
MacDonald said that whatever the date is when the SPS assumes the role of police of jurisdiction from the RCMP, this element of the plan “not identical to what they mapped out in 2019” will be in effect. The Surrey RCMP currently continues to have command and control, but once that transfers over to the SPS, he noted, “obviously there will be Surrey RCMP members who will be under the command and control of SPS.”
Granum said the “key” is the police of jurisdiction status, “and that changes command, because over the couple of years following that there will be a continued gradual transition of demobilizing the RCMP and bringing in SPS officers. There will be a day when the last of the RCMP officers demobilize from the City of Surrey but the key date is that change of command.”
Once that happens, she explained, there will be a more “fulsome and structured” plan to finalize the demobilization of the Surrey RCMP.
Meanwhile, MacDonald says the SPS has already come a long way despite its critics.
“There were detractors in the early stages that said we would never have a sworn officer, and then we had our first swearing-in. And then they said well, you won’t ever be deployed, you’ll never have firearms, you’ll never be qualified to actually do any policing duties, you’ll just all be administrative,” he said. “And then we’ve deploying more and more and more. Every time we essentially hit and milestone or do something I would say is significant, the detractors say ‘Oh yeah, well you haven’t done that.’”
“And so what’s commonly still left on the table is they go, well, this municipal election hasn’t happened, as though the municipal election is going to somehow change anything. And then they go, you’re not the police of jurisdiction yet. And to the detractors, in all due respect, I would say almost everything that you’ve called out that you said we wouldn’t accomplish, we have.”