Surrey RCMP Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Surrey’s top cop talks leadership during troubled times

‘So 2020 has been a challenge,’ Asssistant Commissioner Brian Edwards says

It’s no secret that 2020 has been the Surrey RCMP’s perfect storm.

The man steering his crew of 1,145 staff and Mounties through the tempest, Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, discussed the detachment’s annus horribilis through the lens of leadership, and lessons learned, as keynote speaker at the Surrey Board of Trade’s digital annual general meeting on Tuesday.

“There is no doubt that this is a year to remember,” Edwards started.

“Yet I can tell you that our employees come to work every day, and they continue to dig deep and in fact have reduced crime during this period,” he said.

“So 2020 has been a challenge, and as leaders we all will have approached it differently,” Edwards said. “If we are worth our salt, however, we will look back at times like this and wonder did we do it right, did we respond too quick, too slow. True leaders will evolve with every challenge they face. For me, the past few months have reinforced the importance of knowing when to respond quickly, and when to slow it down.”

Edwards shared from his experience leading the largest RCMP detachment over the past seven months, through the policing transition process thus far, the Black Lives Matter movement, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic locally from March onward.

“A short time later, two months in fact, George Floyd filled our TV screens, our twitter feeds and our hearts and our minds,” Edwards noted. “Scrutiny of police actions quickly reached an all-time high in North America and really, across the world. New videos of other police misconduct seemed to be circulating almost daily and this was creating resulting questions of all police forces, including the RCMP, and Surrey RCMP.”

Edwards said the public “rightly had” questions about use of force, body cameras, systemic racism, street checks and wellness checks. “A host of issues. They wanted answers, and they wanted them fast. An unfortunate byproduct of this fast-moving narrative was distrust or even dislike of police.”

At Surrey council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, 2018 it served notice to the provincial and federal governments it is ending its contract with the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up its own force. The target date for the Surrey Police Service to take over from the Surrey RCMP is next April.

“Locally, for members of the Surrey RCMP, we have had the constant bubbling of police transition for almost two years. I think over that time our members have experienced a host of emotions but one constant feeling is that of anxiety,” Edwards said. “Anxiety about when it will happen, how it will happen, why it is happening, how it will impact individuals, employees, homes, careers, finances, marriages, even our children. Again, this isn’t a discussion we could opt out of.”

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Surrey’s top cop told his virtual audience his views on “the speed of response.

“As leaders, we always need to decide how quickly we must respond to issues,” he noted. “As all of you will have experienced, COVID-19 required an urgent response.”

But, he added, “as leaders there are times when it is more important to be measured, strategic, and to be thoughtful. For instance, do we really believe that we can immediately fix issues of a systemic or institutional nature?

“Is that sincere, is that genuine, or is that even believable?” Edwards asked. “Black Lives Matter, racism, even de-funding the police are very, very complex issues and complex issues require more time and space. We have to consider issues in their entirety, we need to dive deep, we need to listen to different opinions, we need to allow other opinions and other experiences to be validated.”

“My first leadership lesson in this chair,” he said, “is that faster isn’t always better, speed and quick decision-making may have a definite role in leadership but you also need to know when to not immediately act.”

He said it’s “important to trust your people.”

“Truly it’s one of the most important things that you can do. Trust in your people, and if you do, they will trust in you.”

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, noted that October would have marked the 24th annual Police Officer of the Year awards dinner, “the only one of it’s kind in Canada,” but “that’s not possible with the pandemic this fall.”

And so the board paid tribute to the Surrey RCMP after Edward’s speech, highlighting programs like the mental health outreach team, the diversity and Indigenous people’s unit, the business engagement and safety team, the Surrey gang enforcement team, and the citizen and youth police academy.

The Surrey Board of Trade’s at Tuesday’s “virtual” AGM, the board’s 56th to date, also inducted new directors Doug Tennant of UNITI, (board chairman), Baljit Dhaliwal of Tinker’s Tax & Accounting (vice chair), Dr. Gregory Thomas of G3 Consulting Ltd. (immediate past chair), and David Bennett of FortisBC, Kerry Jothen of Human Capital Strategies, Hanne Madsen of Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland, Rory Morgan, of Hamilton Duncan, John Michener of the Port of Bellingham, Gaurav Parmar of Lindsay Kenney LLP, and Joslyn Young of the Port of Vancouver.

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