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‘Draft’ of final plan on Surrey policing before council Monday

If approved, final plan will be submitted to Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth for consideration by Dec. 15
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Surrey City council will vote Monday on a “draft report” on retaining the Surrey RCMP rather than forging ahead with the transition to the Surrey Police Service. If council endorses this 88-page report, and a recommendation authorizing city staff to “make any final edits,” the final plan will be submitted to Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth for consideration by Dec. 15.

The report before council indicates that from 2023 to 2027 it would cost Surrey $924.8 million to retain the RCMP and $1.1602 billion over that same period to “build out and finalize” the transition to the Surrey Police Service, making for a cost difference of $235.4 million.

A Surrey Connect election campaign media release claimed retaining the Surrey RCMP instead of incoming Surrey Police Service would save residents $520 million over the next four years.

The Now-Leader reached out to Mayor Brenda Locke and Coun. Pardeep Kooner, who crunched that number, for comment on the $284.4 million gap. Locke stands by her slate’s number, saying it was based on a forecast of what it was able to gather. “It has been difficult to get any information out of the Surrey Police Service,” she said. The city’s report does not include capital, she added, “and the capital is significant.” The executive director of the Surrey Police Board, she noted, said in mid-October said the IT alone would cost $100 million.

“This is over and above the $235 million.”

In the police report, she said, it’s “very clear” the SPS wants 1,150 members. “The math totally adds up,” Locke said. “To be perfectly frank, we felt vindicated by the city’s report because it actually does show exactly what we were saying.”

“So all those other pieces have to be factored in, they’re not a part of this report,” she said. “All those pieces will add to the bottom line. I think that our staff did a great job on the report, they gave the Surrey Police Service every bit of benefit of the doubt that they could.”

“Honestly, this will take food off of people’s tables and I can’t be a party to that,” Locke said. “It’s a lot of money.”

Council on Nov. 28 approved a framework for maintaining the RCMP as Surrey’s police of jurisdiction and instructed staff to present a final plan.

“Certainly on this matter of critical importance a decision must be well-informed and must be timely,” Wayne Rideout, assistant deputy minister and director of public services, told the Surrey Police Board on Nov. 30. “To this end, the minister has shared his view that he would like to be in a position to communicate a ministerial decision as soon as possible early in the new year.”

READ ALSO: Top Surrey Mountie says RCMP path forward ‘remarkably simple’

READ ALSO: Locke gets cold reception from Surrey Police Board

READ ALSO: Surrey council votes 5-4 to maintain Surrey RCMP as city’s police department

The draft report, entitled POLICING SURREY: A Plan to Retain the RCMP as the Police of Jurisdiction in Surrey, notes in its executive summary that the Surrey Police Service currently has “less than half the officers required to police Surrey and only approximately 168 of those officers are operational (Operational SPS Officers),” while the RCMP “remains Surrey’s police of jurisdiction and retains command and control of policing in Surrey.”

Moreover, the initial phase of the policing transition agreement is set to expire next May and would have to be renewed by “all stakeholders.”

The executive summary notes there is no agreement in place to enter a second phase of the transition, “leaving most issues involving critical infrastructure and equipment unsorted,” and necessary legal mechanisms to continue with the transition yet to be negotiated.

“No formal notice that Surrey will be exiting from its contract for RCMP services has been provided to the federal government,” the document reads, with “no precedent” for Mounties to stay in Surrey under SPS command and control, “which would likely be necessary for a period of years,” even if the SPS could staff up to 50 per cent of the city’s authorized complement of police.”

The SPS raised concerns about “key assumptions” in the report, in a press release issued Monday. The SPS says it wasn’t consulted on the report before council.

“We believe that the many assumptions made in this report have contributed to the City providing an inflated cost to taxpayers to continue with the transition to SPS, which they have stated is $235.4M over five years,” Chief Constable Norm Lipinski stated in the press release. “It should be further noted that this amount was previously purported to be $520M over four years by Surrey Connect during the recent municipal election.”

Among points of contention are the estimate that the SPS would cost $31.9 million more per year than the RCMP when SPS calculations estimate the cost difference would be $18.3 million, assumption the SPS would have difficulty recruiting the remaining 419 officers, no consideration of more than $100 million in “unrecoverable costs” Surrey taxpayers have invested in the transition – “including more than $17M in IT infrastructure that would primarily be incompatible with the RCMP IT environment.” Further, the SPS takes issue with the assumption the transition would take five more years, maintaining it’s “inconsistent with previous discussions between the three levels of government and seems excessive given SPS’s proven ability to hire.”

Lipinski said this is “truly an unprecedented situation where a police agency was approved and stood up over two years ago, and now a new council is seeking to potentially reverse course and shut down a police agency with 375 employees who joined SPS in good faith.

“This is a difficult situation for the employees of both SPS and the Surrey RCMP. I think it is safe to say that we are all hopeful for a prompt, but carefully considered decision by the minister early in the new year,” Lipinski added.

READ ALSO: Pardeep Kooner looking at the long term

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The RCMP has been Surrey’s police of jurisdiction since it took over from the Surrey Police on May 1, 1951, as the result of a plebiscite. Surrey’s is the largest RCMP detachment in all of Canada.

“The key element of this plan involves the strategies the RCMP will use to reach, and maintain, 734 operational RCMP members in Surrey,” the document states. As of Nov. 30, Surrey has 573 operational RCMP officers and 168 operational SPS officers for a total of 741, seven more than the 734 target.

“Critical to the success of this Plan is the ability of the RCMP to maintain 734 Operational Officers, while replacing the SPS officers currently deployed to Surrey RCMP with RCMP members,” the draft plan reads. “It is significantly less challenging and less costly to Surrey taxpayers compared to continuing the transition to SPS.”

It also says it’s “imperative” that the Surrey Police Board and SPS “end further hiring of recruits, as Surrey RCMP anticipates replacing the existing SPS deployments with RCMP members and cadets by the end of 2023.”

“With implementation of this Plan,” this draft of the “final” plan states, “the City and the RCMP will ensure that the authorized strength of 843 positions at Surrey RCMP is maintained. This includes the equivalent of 58 positions allocated to the Lower Mainland Integrated Teams and 51 unfunded vacancies, leaving Surrey Detachment’s funded strength at 734.”

While the RCMP has higher base salary costs for constables and corporals, the SPS has higher base salary costs for senior sworn members, the report notes. It provides a “scenario” from which “it can be inferred that SPS policing services would result in an additional annual cost to the City of approximately $31.9M per year for policing operating costs, or conversely, an annual savings of an equal amount for RCMP policing services.”

Meantime, Surrey First councillors Linda Annis and Mike Bose issued a press release Monday indicating they won’t support the draft report, claiming it is incomplete.

“We ran on giving Surrey residents their say in a policing referendum,” Annis said. “If we’re not going to have a referendum, the very least we can do is give our residents the whole story that gets all of the facts and numbers on the table. For instance, we want to see the SPS response to the report and whether they challenge any of the assumptions and numbers. It’s one thing to have your own opinion, but you cannot have your own facts, so I want to make sure that whatever is sent to the minister can stand up to scrutiny.”

Annis noted Surrey Connect claimed during the election campaign it would cost $520 million to switch over to the SPS but the draft plan puts that at $235.4 million over five years, 21 per cent more than the cost of staying with the RCMP. “Meanwhile, the Surrey Police Service indicates the cost to switch would be $110.1 million over five years, or 11 per cent more expensive than keeping the RCMP.”

Bose says “the rush” to submit the plan to Farnworth shouldn’t come at the expense of getting numbers and facts right.

“We’ve spent four years dealing with this issue, so taking a few more weeks to get the facts straight so taxpayers know we’ve taken the whole thing seriously is worth the extra time,” he said. “At the end of the day every number and every assumption needs to be correct, if not we will end up making a costly process even more expensive.”

Locke said she’s “disappointed” by the Surrey First press release. “Perhaps they didn’t read the report, because if they had, they would have figured it out.

“At the end of the day, this is the taxpayer who’s going to pay for this. And it’s enormous. If this had been done right from the beginning, we’d be in a different place, but it never was. Every other city did it right, we did it absolutely wrong, and now, we’re trying to pick up the pieces and the very people like Annis, for example, that were complaining about it then are now flipping sides on it. I just don’t understand it.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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