Surrey city council cast an historic vote Monday night on the next course of action for Surrey’s embattled policing transition. On a 5-4 vote, council decided to maintain the Surrey RCMP as this city’s police of jurisdiction instead of forging ahead with the Surrey Police Service.
City staff will now prepare a plan for Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth’s approval to that end, as well as issue a letter on council’s behalf to the Surrey Police Board “to pause all new hiring and expenditures pending further Council direction.”
Mayor Brenda Locke and her Surrey Connect five-member majority campaigned on keeping the RCMP.
She and councillors Harry Bains, Rob Stutt, Pardeep Kooner and Gordon Hepner voted in favour, while Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra voted against keeping the RCMP as did Surrey First councillors Mike Bose and Linda Annis.
Annis moved an amendment toward staging a referendum, but her amendment was defeated.
“We have no idea where we’re at with this transition, there’s been very little public consultation,” Annis said. “We have no idea what the cost would be if we were to revert back to the RCMP. This is the largest issue that probably any single city council will ever make.”
“I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with engaging with the public and asking for their opinion,” Annis said. Surrey Connect claimed during the election campaign that sticking with the RCMP would save taxpayers $520M over the next four years.
Coun. Mike Bose said having a referendum, “as expensive and as time-consuming as it would be,” would “create that transparency and openness that we’ve all run on.”
Two options were before council. The second option, rendered moot after this vote, was to continue the transition to the Surrey Police Service.
Surrey First issued a press release before the meeting calling for a referendum, in which Annis said, “The nine of us elected to council on October 15 should not be making this final decision.”
Annis wrote a letter to Farnworth urging him to call on the City of Surrey to hold a public referendum on the policing question, arguing that “this costly back-and-forth will remain a political football unless the voters of Surrey are finally allowed to decide this issue.”
Nagra urged to “get the numbers out” from the Surrey Police Board. “Right now we don’t have any numbers,” he said. “Please make a wise decision, let’s get all the numbers before we vote on this.”
“I’m not saying, you know, that the SPS is better than RCMP or RCMP is better than SPS, all we’re saying is let’s look at the numbers one more time before we make any decisions.”
Elford said going “back in time to untransition to the RCMP” would once again render Surrey an “underpoliced city.” The Newton resident said he’s been personally victimized under the RCMP’s watch, including having 19 bikes stolen, a “meth-crazed bunch of youths smash windows out of my brand-new car and threaten my life in my driveway, only for them to come back and smash out the window of my rental car the next day.
“Do I want to wake up in the middle of the night to chase a burglar out of my living room?” Elford said. “I do not want to go back to a police force that is undermanned and continues to be undermanned to this day.”
In response, Coun. Rob Stutt said he fails to see how Elford “has provided any proof that a change of the policing that we’ve had for the last 70 years would improve by a new police force.”
“We hear let’s look at the numbers one more time. I would like to look at the numbers one time. We haven’t seen the numbers yet,” Stutt noted. “That’s the issue.”
Coun. Gordon Hepner asked city staff if the SPS has revealed to staff its capital expenditure plan for the transition. Finance manager Kam Grewal replied that “over the course of time staff have worked with SPS, there have been communications, but in relation to recent times and an updated capital plan, that information hasn’t yet been solidified or finalized in terms of what does that plan look like rolling out to completion of transition.”
Locke also weighed in.
“First of all, Councillor Elford, with all due respect you consistently voted against additional staffing to add more boots on the ground and we did not see that in the previous four years,” she said. She added Annis is getting ahead of herself in terms of a referendum because the motion before council Monday was to maintain the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction and send a plan to Farnworth.
“They are that now,” Locke said. “We are only talking about asking staff to assist us in preparing a report, in fact, a report that should have been prepared at the very beginning of this almost four years ago.”
Meantime, the Surrey Police Union last week said 275 of 293 Surrey Police Service officers signed a pledge saying they have no intention of joining the “toxic” RCMP if the process to reverse the SPS policing transition to keep the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction goes ahead.
The Surrey Police Union pledge, released Nov. 10, says 94 per cent of its members have declared “No Intention” of joining the RCMP if the SPS ceases to exist.
Locke on election night Oct. 15 said in her victory speech that she and her team have a “great plan” to keep the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction, adding, “We will not leave any of the SPS officers behind, we will pick them up.” She reiterated this in her inauguration speech on Nov. 7, at city hall.
SPU President Rick Stewart said the officers “voluntarily signed this declaration because of a number of specific reasons related to the RCMP, and as such, Mayor Locke’s hiring plan shows no regard for the will of our members” and “the attraction of working for a Surrey-based municipal police force remains as one of the main factors behind our successful recruitment thus far.”
Locke expressed dismay.
“I would tell you that quite frankly I’m disappointed with this tactic that the SPS union has taken and as I said in my statement, this plan will be people-centric.
“There are opportunities with the RCMP and so people will make their decisions moving forward so I think all that will take on whatever role it takes on later on,” Locke told the Now-Leader. “It’s a new day for Surrey and we’re going to do exactly what the voter had asked and so we’ve moving forward on that. But you know, we’ve got to get beyond the back-and-forth and that’s important. I know we all want to have a shared goal.”
That goal, she said, is keeping residents safe.
Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said policing “should not be politicized.
“The police transition in Surrey has been a polarizing issue. However, the members of the Surrey RCMP have shown dedication and commitment throughout, and have been working seamlessly with their SPS colleagues which is a testament to their professionalism.”
On the matter of council instructing City of Surrey staff to in turn instruct the Surrey Police Board to cease hiring and spending, the board’s executive director Melissa Granum notes that under the Police Act the provincial government has authority over the board and no city council can direct the police “with respect to their budget and their hiring.”
Granum says the board has “every intention” of “looking to the province for guidance on next steps and advice” and “it’s also important to understand that the hiring that’s occurring right now is completed and that takes us into January of next year. So we have new police recruits for the police academy and we have police officers hired to deploy in January.”
Those hires, she said, have been completed.
“So any stoppage to hiring would have a ripple effect into the spring,” Granum said. “It’s really, really important to understand is that the province has given us direction to continue deploying police officers and to continue hiring. That’s the direction from the province itself.”
This, Granum explains, overrides what council decided Monday night “with our approved budget, yes.”
“The bottom line is hiring these police officers that we’ve already given employment offers to and who’ve already given notice to their previous employers, is Surrey needs those police resources at the front line, they need those police resources to be taking calls for service in Surrey.”
So it’s the province that has the say, not city council at this point, within the 2022 budget. “That’s something really important as well is council ultimately approves our annual budgets so we’ll be submitting a budget for next year, and we’ll have to determine next steps once council makes a decision on the budget for next year.”
That said, Granum notes “it would be ideal” for Farnworth to make his decision “in a timely manner” because council needs to plan its budget and “it needs to understand which direction it’s going.”
“At the end of the day, the most important thing obviously for everybody involved is public safety and ensuring that we have enough police officers working in the city. There’s a common goal there.”