Surrey city council decided Monday night in a 6-3 vote to approve a “draft report” on retaining the Surrey RCMP rather than forging ahead with the transition to the Surrey Police Service. Now that council has endorsed 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.
Surrey Connect Mayor Brenda Locke, Surrey Connect councillors Harry Bains, Pardeep Kooner, Rob Stutt, Gordon Hepner and Surrey First Coun. Mike Bose voted in favour and Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford, Mandeep Nagra and Surrey First Coun. Linda Annis were opposed.
Kam Grewal, Surrey’s general manager of finance, said the true cost of keeping the RCMP or going ahead with the SPS will not be known “until there is only one police force left and the other one has been effectively dissolved.
“There’s too much unknowns for us to even consider that,” Grewal told council. “We’d have to see how accurate the 39 assumptions in this report were over the course of time and we cannot do that until a future state.”
Stutt asked Grewal if it’s cost-effective to retain the RCMP.
“I personally wouldn’t use the word ‘effective,’” Grewal replied, “I would say that it is less costly without doubt.”
He said his report indicates a difference of $32 million per year, with potential for that to grow.
“The only answer to the question between the two, from an ongoing basis, is that the RCMP would cost the city less,” Grewal said. “I’m a little hesitant to use the word ‘effective’ because then we get into effective policing, and that’s not the scope of the analysis.”
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 Monday morning 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.”
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.”
Both the SPS and RCMP must also submit reports to the provincial government by Dec. 22.
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.
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.”