'Safest path forward': Province recommends Surrey continue with municipal force transition

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has recommended the Surrey Police Service transition continue. The city can forego the recommendations and continue with RCMP if they wish

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke speaks to reporters following the B.C. government's announcement on policing in her community. Here, she is seen holding the redacted report. | Graeme Wood, Glacier Media

B.C. Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth is “strongly recommending” the City of Surrey continue transitioning from the RCMP to a municipal police force, following a review of the contentious ongoing project.

On Friday morning, Farnworth announced that policing should be turned over from Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service (SPS) and he is now willing to provide money to the city in order to do so.

However, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke was quick to denounce Farnworth’s recommendation and said Surrey will be keeping the Mounties.

“Our decision is exactly what it was in December; that we will keep the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction,” said Locke.

“That is Surrey’s choice to make and council made that decision; we made it five months ago and our decision has not changed,” reiterated Locke at Surrey City Hall following Farnworth’s announcement in Victoria.

Locke took issue with the ministry’s redacted report, which was only handed to her at the same time it was made public during Farnworth’s press conference.

Locke held up the report showing the numerous redacted pages.

“How on earth are we expected to make an informed decision?” she asked rhetorically.

Nevertheless, she said city staff will review the report she called “disingenuous” and “half baked.”

Under the B.C. Police Act, the City of Surrey can forego the recommendations and continue with RCMP, but they must meet conditions from the province. Furthermore, Farnworth said he’s willing to fund the transition so long as it maintains course to install the presently nascent SPS.

But Farnworth said the province has not set a dollar amount for how much it is willing to subsidize the continued transition to SPS. The province’s report notes the transition will cost $235 million to complete and thereafter annual operating costs will be about $30 million more than they were with Surrey RCMP. The province will not provide financial support should Surrey maintain the RCMP, Farnworth clarified.

Locke said she does not have a price point at which she would consider continuing the transition and said she hopes to meet with Farnworth and provincial officials on the matter.

While the report only states a recommendation, Farnworth has placed conditions on the city should it keep the RCMP and revert back to a full complement of Mounties.

A key condition is that the Surrey RCMP not poach officers from B.C. communities.

Farnworth said there are 1,500 RCMP vacancies throughout the province and if Surrey reverts back to the RCMP it would exacerbate the challenges faced by municipalities and Indigenous communities.

According to the ministry, the City of Surrey’s plan to return to RCMP is not safe and would be at the expense of staffing other RCMP vacancies and staffing needs. 

But Locke said the same could be said if the SPS transition continues.

The SPS has hired over 390 sworn officers and civilian support staff. Of these, about 330 are sworn officers, including new recruits currently in various stages of training. And of those 330, 219 are under command of the Surrey RCMP as the transition continues along, since first authorized by the province in February 2020.

"Everyone deserves to be safe in their community and all British Columbians deserve secure, stable policing they can count on,” said Farnworth. 

"The people of Surrey are very frustrated by years of uncertainty over this debate, but we must move forward without reducing police presence when we need it the most."

The report stated continuing with the SPS transition would be the "safest path forward" and that reverting back to the RCMP would cost the city around $72 million.

Locke said the report’s executive summary confirms the city’s financial concerns of keeping the transition going.

And, the ministry noted that continuing with the transition to the Surrey Police Service has its own risk and challenges, including SPS hiring to not impact other police agencies in the province. 

The ministry found the RCMP’s "corporate ability to staff critical positions which has now become an acute concern for the government.” The province said the RCMP has had challenges requiring the number of officers needed to address attrition and growth. 

"Now is not the time to put public safety at risk in Surrey or in any community in the province,” said Farnworth.

Recommendations from province

The province says there are multiple recommendations for both reversing the transition and retaining RCMP or continuing with the SPS transition.

In order for Surrey to continue with the Surrey Police Service, the following conditions must be met: a strategic implementation advisor, provincial oversight of SPS hiring plans and a BC RCMP Senior Transition Leader for Surrey. 

If the city reverses the transition and retains RCMP, it must have: a strategic implementation advisor, individualized HR plans, a revised city plan, BC RCMP Senior Contract Officer and a BC RCMP Senior Transition Leader for Surrey. 

The "revised city plan" should look at a re-staffing plan that does not prioritize Surrey RCMP re-staffing over other BC RCMP vacancies and resourcing needs and includes transition reverse components and updated costs. 

"The overnment recognizes this is an unprecedented situation that threatens public safety and therefore has offered to discuss financial or other supports to the City going forward,” states the report. 

Farnworth received submissions from the city, RCMP and SPS last December but the information received was incomplete. Then in February, supplemental submissions were received after more information was requested. 

A decision was set to be delivered from the provincial government earlier in 2023, but Farnworth announced it was delayed in January

The municipal force was a campaign promise of former mayor Doug McCallum when he got elected in 2018. A change in council following last October’s election ushered in new political direction, from Locke.

In making the decision, the ministry considered the recent Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission Report and BC Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act. The federal public safety minister’s review of RCMP contract policing was also considered. 

More to come.


The director's conditions. Province of British Columbia