The Surrey RCMP and Surrey Police Service are like two great ships passing in uncharted waters with one sailing into a sunset, the other toward a new day.
While the SPS continues to get underway, the Surrey RCMP continues to police this city during a transition process on a scale unprecedented in Canadian history, through a pandemic and global call to de-fund police, without the benefit of additional resources to keep up with the city’s growth.
“I continue to be astounded and impressed by the resilience of the membership and municipal employees at this detachment at continuing to provide service to this community in the face of adversity,” Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, in charge of the Surrey RCMP, told the Now-Leader.
“We’ve played a strong role at reducing crime in 2020. Violent crime is down nine per cent, property crime is down 16 per cent, and notwithstanding the deep and personal effect the transition has on each one of our employees, they continue to come to work each day and fulfill their duties and provide service to this community.
“It just makes me just so exceedingly proud to lead this group of men and women.”
At this time, Edwards says, the Surrey RCMP has a complete budget for the fiscal year 2021/22, subject to any written changes or notice of written changes to that, which maintains current services but does not provide for growth because of the policing transition.
So far, Edwards says, the SPS’s hiring of senior officers to build its leadership team has not caused any budgetary shortfall to the Surrey RCMP.
“My budget can only be changed with written notice. If I do receive that I will respond accordingly but until that time it would just be speculative what that might look like. I would expect that to be from the city, it may or may not involve the province.”
Though many of those hired to the SPS management team are former Mounties, at this time of writing none have been from the Surrey detachment and this process is not causing any budgetary shortfall, Edwards said. He has not seen any drain from his detachment to the SPS in this respect.
“No we haven’t yet,” he said. “I haven’t lost one person to the SPS as of this time. They’re coming from other areas of the RCMP so far. I haven’t lost anybody from the detachment but I could tomorrow, who knows.”
Because of this transition, which Surrey council initiated at its inaugural meeting on Nov. 5, 2018, Edward notes that Surrey Mounties have been facing uncertainty for more than two years now, “and that’s a long time to be in a state of uncertainty. Everybody reacts to it a little bit differently, but it’s a difficult thing to face uncertainty over such a long period.”
Edwards has been chief of the detachment for 16 months and has not yet decided what he will do after the Surrey RCMP, which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951. It began with 15 constables and today, Canada’s largest RCMP detachment has 843 police officers and 302 municipal support staff, with 32 per cent of its employees identifying as visible minorities. Ninety-three community volunteers and 37 auxiliary volunteers also try to keep Surrey safe.
“It’s the best job I ever have had, probably ever will have and it’s a privilege to be in this chair and that’s where I intend to stay now as we move forward,” Edwards said.
Ironically, as the Surrey RCMP is set to be replaced, Statistics Canada indicates Surrey in the five prior to 2019 – a year when Surrey Mounties responded to 199,020 calls for help – has enjoyed a 14.3 per cent decrease in crime, besting other big cities across Canada.
“I think it demonstrates that the strategies that are employed and the work that is being done at the local level is being successful in leading to those drops.”
Meantime, Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, in charge of the SPS and a veteran police officer himself, says putting together Surrey’s new police force is one of the biggest challenges of his career.
“I remain committed to creating a municipal policing model with its operational roots right here in Surrey,” he said. “My focus, and that of the Leadership team, continues to be to move through the development process creating an organization that is community-centred in its service philosophy.”
He says he expects to have “boots on the ground” in 2021 as the transition presses forward in a “systematic, process-driven” manner.
“There has been some speculation regarding the transition, including timing,” Lipinski noted. “But the fact is, the transfer of policing responsibility will happen in an orderly, efficient and methodical manner. It is important that this be done right, not fast. As chief, there is nothing more important to me than the duty of ensuring a safe and successful transfer of responsibility for the sake of both citizens and officers.”
Sharlene Brooks, public affairs and communications manager for the SPS, said the new police service has already commenced recruitment at the sergeant and staff-sergeant level, having already hired inspectors, deputy constables and of course the chief.
“It’s going to be more of a staged or phased recruiting process,” she explained. “Right now, of course its the sergeants and staff sergeants and also looking for constables for specialized units, in positions more to build the infrastructure to prepare for operationalizing. That would be training, training, administration, operations.”
Brooks said recruiting will be ongoing and some of these positions will be added in a “staged-growth” approach.
“In the coming week or two, I believe it is, they’ll be posting for specialized positions at the constable level,” she said. “And then on a broader base, like for the general membership let’s say, of officers, that will be ongoing and likely more focused through the summer and fall.”
As the Surrey Police Service “spools up,” Brooks noted, the Surrey RCMP will “spool down.”
It will be a phased-in transition so Surrey residents might expect to see SPS working alongside the RCMP and some of this is still under development.
“It’s not as simple as let’s say flipping the switch of start, stop. It’s going to be likely in tandem, and while we spool up the RCMP will spool down.”
“The next few months are very critical,” she said. “It’s paramount that public safety not be compromised and the transition will occur in a timely way that’s methodical and that will ensure public safety is not disrupted in any way as the RCMP diminish.”
The bottom line for Surrey residents calling 911 is that police will be there.
“Whether it’s an RCMP patch or an SPS patch, the bottom line is the transition will be done in a manner that does not compromise public safety. Once all of the finite details are hammered out and approved, as everybody works collaboratively towards this plan, that will be communicated out to the public so that there is not any confusion,” Brooks explained.
“The bottom line is, irrespective of the patch, when you need the police, there will be police.”