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AND FRANKLY: Surrey citizens owed an explanation on police transition

Questions remain over lengthy switchover, where SPS officers will come from

The transition to a Surrey Police force needs a whole lot more explaining than has been offered by the current council, the Surrey Police board and Surrey Police chief Norm Lipinski.

When the issue of replacing Surrey RCMP with a municipal force was front and centre in the 2018 election, no candidate told voters that the transition would be from Surrey RCMP to a hybrid of RCMP and Surrey Police, nor that the hybrid policing model would go on for an undetermined length of time. Nor did any of them, including the eventual winner of the mayor’s chair, Doug McCallum, explain how long it would take for Surrey to eventually have a Surrey Police force.

The B.C. government and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, who approved the transition and refused to allow a referendum on the subject, did not make any such explanatory remarks either. The provincial silence on the police transition since that time has been deafening.

The Surrey Police Service has been officially in place for two years, as of last week. Yet it only has 120 officers who are actually doing police work under the command of Surrey RCMP. There has been no date given as to when Surrey Police will take over.

The 120 who are working with Surrey RCMP are just over half of the actual number hired. There are now 237 Surrey Police officers drawing paycheques, along with 52 civilian employees. Are 117 of them working out details of the transition, or doing administrative jobs? No one is telling taxpayers, that’s for sure.

In a press release issued July 25, Surrey Police said it is aiming to have 295 officers in place by next May, nine months from now. That number is less than half the number of Surrey RCMP officers who were patrolling the streets of the city back in 2018.

No one in charge has explained to the citizens of Surrey, who are paying for the two police agencies to operate simultaneously, just when the municipal force will be able to take complete charge. At the rate of the transition outlined in the press release, it could easily be another two or three years – or even longer.

In addition to all of those unanswered questions, there continues to be no definitive answer as to just how much this transition has already cost taxpayers, and what the final price tag will be.

Hiring enough police officers has proven to be a much bigger challenge that anyone is willing to admit. This was a question that actually did come during and after the 2018 municipal election. Municipal police officers are trained at the Justice Institute, and training more than 800 of them within a couple of years is far beyond the institute’s capacity.

It was expected that many Surrey RCMP officers would jump over to the new force, given that pay levels for municipal police have traditionally been higher. However, RCMP members were finally able to unionize and a much more generous contract was negotiated. In addition, many Surrey RCMP members with seniority do not want to give up their ability to collect a federal pension.

Lipinski said in the July 25 press release that the “steady, incremental progress toward Surrey Police Service becoming the police of jurisdiction in Surrey is the result of the efforts that began two years ago and have continued every day since.

“I am obviously proud of our accomplishments to this point, but I know our team always remains focused on the next challenge and on the primary objective of improving public safety for the citizens of Surrey.”

It’s too bad that no one in a position of authority is focused on answering some fundamental questions about the transition.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for the Peace Arch News.

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