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Claims Surrey RCMP not locally accountable are ‘unfounded’ and ‘laughable,’ Edwards tells council

Plan to keep RCMP in Surrey, if approved Dec. 12, will go to solicitor general Dec. 15
Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, in charge of the Surrey RCMP, addresses Surrey city council on Monday, Nov. 28. (Screen shot)

Surrey city council has directed city staff, as Mayor Brenda Locke put it, to make “a 180” degree turn on the policing transition to the Surrey Police Service from the Surrey RCMP.

Councillors Mandeep Nagra, Doug Elford and Linda Annis voted against endorsing a framework for maintaining the RCMP as Surrey’s police of jurisdiction and have staff present a final plan to this end, to be voted on by council at its Dec. 12 council meeting. It was passed on a 6-3 vote, with Mayor Brenda Locke, Rob Stutt, Pardeep Kooner, Gordon Hepner, Harry Bains and Mike Bose voting in favour.

Nagra raised Surrey Connect’s election claim that retaining the Surrey RCMP instead of incoming Surrey Police Service would save residents $520 million over the next four years. “When do we get to see that number that it’s going to cost $520 million?” he asked.

Surrey’s manager of finance Kam Grewal replied that staff are working “very, very hard” on a financial analysis that will be “forthcoming” on Dec. 12. “In relation to the direction question by councillor Nagra, I cannot speak to that, I haven’t seen those numbers but I can tell you it’s a priority of staff to include the financial analysis and implications all on Dec. 12.”

Surrey’s top Mountie Brian Edwards presented before city council Monday night a “framework for maintaining the RCMP as Police of Jurisdiction in Surrey.”

Edwards told council he has 573 operational members under his command, with others recovering from injuries. “I need 161 officers to right-size. I can do that by the end of 2023. The RCMP has been on-budget year after year after year.”

“My path forward is remarkably simple,” he said. “I need a staffing plan for 161 people.”

He said the “uncertainty of policing is no longer tenable.”

“If I’m given the green light, I’ll immediately implement steps to staff up to 161.”

Claims the Surrey RCMP is not locally accountable are “unfounded” and “laughable,” he told council. He welcomed Surrey Police Service officers to join the Surrey RCMP.

“We’re locally accountable, there’s no other way to say it.”

Seeking to “dispel a myth,” he said, current SPS officers who join the RCMP can spend their entire career working in Surrey, with the RCMP.

“I welcome them to the RCMP,” he said. “There’s not a better entry point to the RCMP for a municipal officer than Surrey.”

Edwards received lengthy applause from the audience in council chambers. Locke asked for order.

Elford asked him what he plans to do about SPS officers vowing en-masse to not join the RCMP, to which Edwards replied “Are you referring to the pledge that was made that 94 per cent of SPS won’t join the RCMP? I’m not going to respond to union business, but I left Calgary Police and I will say this, that employment law supports me: The decision of an employer is one that is made by an individual, not a group. And I’ll leave my answer at that.”

Edwards told council he wanted to clarify a few things. “I have respected process and authority through this entire transition whether that decision was to replace the RCMP or to maintain the RCMP. I have always been extremely measured in my comments,” he said. “This has been difficult at times. Often, I was bursting to set the record straight or to advocate to maintain the RCMP. But my job is to lead policing for this city – it is the job of others to decide who polices the city. Unfortunately, others have not been as constrained in public commentary. Spokespersons have criticized ongoing RCMP programs, said that other programs will be better. Programs that don’t exist.”

Edwards said “multiple inaccurate comments” have been made. “The list goes on and on. The intent seems clear – to create concern and fear.”

“These comments seek to establish that the RCMP cannot effectively police Surrey. I’ll show you tonight we have, we do, and we will.” He said he will “never criticize” municipal policing or municipal police officers in this country. “Never. I was one. They provide vital public safety to our communities. But I will not allow others to criticize the RCMP model or RCMP officers.”

Edwards said his team spends a “considerable” amount of time mitigating disruption to policing, “and we have for four years, especially in the last two.” There are “structural deficiencies” in the path moving forward with the current transition to the SPS, he said.

“Make no bones about it.”

Coun. Doug Elford said he’s “disappointed” a representative of the SPS was not in attendance to provide “balance.”

“I think this is a waste of time and money,” Elford said, adding that Surrey transitioning to its own city police force is the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

“All of North America is watching,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Surrey Police Union issued a press release accusing Edwards of withholding “alarming public safety risks to residents.”

“After watching OIC Brian Edwards’ comments last night, I am very concerned by the deliberate omission of the actual policing scenarios taking place on the ground as a result of RCMP staffing shortages,” union president Rick Stewart stated in the press release. “When there is a regular occurrence of only 1-3 officers patrolling the entirety of South Surrey and Cloverdale at night, it is clear that the daily threats to public safety in Surrey are not being taken seriously by RCMP leadership.”

The Now-Leader has reached out to Edwards for a response.

Council debated a corporate report asking the politicians to endorse a proposed framework containing Surrey’s “priorities, goals and objectives for policing in 2023” and direct staff to present a “final plan” for maintaining the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police force for council’s endorsement at its Dec. 12 council meeting.

“This report provides a framework for the City to maintain the RCMP as the Police of Jurisdiction in Surrey,” the corporate report states. “This framework will guide the development of the final plan to maintain the RCMP as the Police of Jurisdiction in Surrey which will be presented to Council for endorsement on December 12, 2022, should Council endorse the recommendations of this report.

Monday’s corporate report – by Surrey’s manager of community services Terry Waterhouse, Kam Grewal, and manager of corporate services Rob Costanzo – states that a “project team” will oversee development of the final plan which, if approved by council on Dec. 12, will be submitted to Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth for consideration by Dec. 15.

At council’s last meeting on Nov. 14 Mayor Brenda Locke’s Surrey Connect majority on a 5-4 vote directed city staff to prepare a plan toward that end.

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

READ ALSO: Farnworth says Surrey can submit ‘untransitioning” police plan

The project team is comprised of Edwards, Waterhouse, consultants Tonia Enger and Dr. Peter German – who has held high positions including the RCMP’s national director general of financial crime and president of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform – with senior members of the RCMP and city staff providing “strategic and administrative support.”

“The Plan, if endorsed, will provide a comprehensive update on the status of the transition to date and highlights the significant amount of work still required,” the report coming before council on Monday states. It also notes the contractual requirement for the RCMP to continue to be the city’s police of jurisdiction is “already in place.”

Since council defeated her Nov. 14 motion for a referendum, Coun. Linda Annis said, the city must produce a report that’s “as fair, transparent, unbiased and factual as possible.

“While I have every confidence in Mr. German and Ms. Enger, a third member of the team, someone not associated with the RCMP, should also help put the report together in order to give Surrey residents and the province the confidence that Surrey has been both fair and accurate in what we find and what’s being proposed going forward,” Annis said. “We never got that sort of transparency with Doug McCallum, but now we can do things better and differently.”

Annis asked council to include an “independent accountant” on the team “to provide financial oversight.” Bose said it would “lend credence” to the process to have an accountant not affiliated with either the RCMP or SPS.

Coun. Rob Stutt asked Annis if she thinks the process is biased. “That’s not what I’m saying,” she replied. The Surrey Connect majority defeated Annis’s motion.

The corporate report notes that the number of Mounties assigned to the Surrey RCMP “has not been reduced and remains” at 843, with 58 of those assigned to Lower Mainland District Integrated Teams and “not located” within the Surrey RCMP detachment.

“As such, the Surrey Detachment strength is considered 785 Members, although 51 of these positions are not currently funded,” the corporate report states. It adds that “as of this date,” 168 Surrey Police Service officers are “providing policing services to Surrey residents” under the RCMP’s command.

While “some preliminary discussions” on legal agreements have been held, “substantive details have not been worked out, nor have agreements been drafted,” the corporate report notes. “Such agreements may require approval of all parties, and likely Cabinet endorsement at both the Federal and Provincial levels. Based on the experience of prior negotiations, it is reasonable to assume the negotiations of these legal agreements will take 6 - 9 months.”

READ ALSO: Surrey Police Board forging ahead

READ ALSO: Pledge sees 275 of 293 Surrey Police Service officers reject crossing over to RCMP

Meantime, the budget and “practical implications of a holding pattern on deployment and demobilization while these legal agreements are prepared and signed off are significant and will require the City to continue to fund through most of 2023 a complement of non-deployed SPS police officers far in excess of the City’s ability to pay,” it continues.

The priorities, goals and objectives for policing in Surrey in 2023 include development of a staffing plan to provide employment, “where possible,” to civilian and sworn SPS officers who are integrated into the Surrey RCMP “to allow for continued and enhanced career development opportunities,” as well as develop and implement an Infrastructure Plan which will see the current information systems and equipment assets purchased on behalf of the SPS, repurposed by other entities within the City of Surrey.”

The objective for 2023 is to maintain a minimum service level of 734 RCMP officers “as soon as possible to ensure adequate and effective policing in 2023 and beyond” and to “develop and implement a plan for SPS to provide Assigned Officers to support” operation of the Municipal Police Unit” as the RCMP “staffs up to full funded strength consistent with an agreed staffing plan.”

And then there are the financial considerations. The city’s policing operations budget for 2023 will include funding for the RCMP contract, city police support services and SPS. The financial plan it adopted for 2022 – 2026 allocates a combined budget of $202.4 million for fiscal year 2023, for policing operations, with proposed budgets to be presented to council “likely in early in 2023.”

“To finalize the budget requirements for 2023,” the corporate report notes, Surrey requires approval from Farnworth of its intention to stick with the RCMP.

“This will allow staff to determine a proposed start date for the implementation of the plan. Collaborative work with the RCMP and the SPS will then take place to determine the cadence of RCMP ramp up and SPS ramp down and confirm corresponding budget allocations required.”

Surrey “envisions” a decision from Farnworth in January 2023 “and a ramp up of RCMP and ramp down of SPS beginning in March 2023.”

Meanwhile, the Surrey Police Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 30. The agenda for that meeting will be made available on that day.

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