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Surrey’s top Mountie Brian Edwards: ‘We have public safety in order’

VIDEO: Edwards speaks Dec. 15 with Now-Leader on Surrey’s policing debate. ‘We’ve never let our foot off the pedal,’ he says
Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards at Surrey RCMP HQ in Surrey on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (Photo: Anna Burns)

Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, the officer in charge of Canada’s largest RCMP detachment, is in the process of completing a “separate and distinct” report on Surrey RCMP’s capabilities to the provincial government that’s due Dec. 22, as the City of Surrey’s final plan to maintain the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction and halt the transition to the Surrey Police Service was set to land on Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth’s desk Thursday, Dec. 15.

The Surrey Police Service is also preparing a report for the provincial government, due Dec. 22.

Farnworth’s decision is expected in early January.

When Edwards was introduced three years ago as Surrey RCMP’s new officer in charge, during a press conference, he was asked why he would want the job, seeing as every indication at that time was that the Mounties were on their way out, to be replaced by a new city police force.

Now, the RCMP is once again a contender to remain Surrey’s police of jurisdiction.

Zytaruk: Did you think that that would be a possibility, at that point?

Edwards: Well, it has been a tremendous shift. My role here is to provide policing to the city, it is up to others to determine who polices the city. I’m extremely pleased, and our members are, to have the opportunity to continue to police Surrey. We’ve always said that. Now that the opportunity is here we’re absolutely going to take it and submit reports as asked and are prepared to stay and continue to serve the citizens of Surrey well into the future so I remained open to any possibilities, because that’s just the nature of the job.

Zytaruk: I guess when you took on the job you were recognizing at that time that there was a time when there would be a transition. Now if the RCMP remains as the police of jurisdiction, are you going to keep on as the top officer here in Surrey?

Edwards: Absolutely, I have no plans to leave and I would very much like to remain in this role and move forward and continue to advance policing in the city of Surrey.

Zytaruk: During your presentation (to city council, Nov. 28) you mentioned now you have an opportunity to set the record straight on some things; of course it’s not lost on you that in social media this whole policing issue has become a real battlefield. How is this affecting the rank and file? Has there been any fighting amongst them over this?

Edwards: As you know, transition is a very political issue in this community. My job has always been to be able to continue to provide the best police service to the community and that means supporting both RCMP members and SPS (Surrey Police Service) members that are deployed in this detachment. And those members have continued to go out, provide policing, high-quality policing, to this community. The most significant thing that I can do is ensure that I focus on public safety, do what’s asked of me to provide that, provide the information that I can, and others will determine who will police the community. The police don’t determine who they police, others do. And that is the public that determines that. So I try to focus my efforts on providing the police services to this community. At the time when I said I set the record straight, what I was talking about there is the amount of work that is left to be done on transition, the legal agreements that are still to come, and the amount of effort that still needs to take place to get us to that spot.

Zytaruk: How does it feel for city councils to starve the detachment for resources over many years and then for the detachment to be criticized for not having enough boots on the street?

Edwards: It’s difficult at times when we’ve got significant growth in this community and the number’s between 1,000 and 1,500 every month that come in. Policing is a significant draw on resources for every community in Canada and we’ve got other efforts that we need to fund such as mental health, education and addictions. So my focus has to be on efficient and effective policing and using the programs that we have as effectively and efficiently as we can. We have been successful in doing that in the last three years and you’ve seen that with the crime trends that are in the community, but that can’t continue forever so I’m looking forward to this being resolved and being able to address resourcing challenges that we have and being able to make application for increasing resources in a strategic way that are efficient and will continue to reduce crime.

Zytaruk: There’s a message out there that if only Surrey had the Surrey Police Service and not the RCMP, this would fix the problem of young men dying in gang violence in Surrey, or go a long way toward it. Is that a red herring?

Edwards: I’ve never seen any documentation that can show a linkage between a change of police agency in Surrey and in fact differences in crime. I’m confident in our programs that we have in this community, I’m confident in the business model, I’m confident in the relationships with the school district, and I’m confident in the inter-dependencies with CFSEU (Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit) and other policing agencies that we have. Gang conflicts run much deeper than law enforcement, they’re related to addictions, they’re related to proceeds of crime and money laundering, and so you can’t tackle it by just changing uniforms, it has to be a dedicated effort. And we know that because there is no one police agency that has the answers to that anywhere in Canada. So I reject that proposition because I don’t think it’s true. Secondly, there’s no business case or business model that’s been advanced that demonstrates that that would be more effective than what we do, and have been doing for over 70 years.

Zytaruk: I just want to revisit a question that I asked you just several back about how things are happening with the rank and file because this is obviously stressful. You’re in command of SPS officers as well as Mounties. Are they getting along? Because you’re overseeing human beings, and people have got to be worried about their job, do I have to move my residence, my family. It’s got to be stressful for both sides.

Edwards: We’ve been dealing with that for four years with the RCMP, three years under my tenure, and I fully understand because I’ve been dealing with it myself. Our people are professionals as are the SPS officers. They’re dedicated, they come in and they’re serving this community. The uncertainty has a toll on people, it always has a toll on people, and that’s why we need a very quick decision on this so we can get the certainty and allow the officers to completely focus on what their duties are here and allow them, with their families, to be able to know with precision what their future looks like.

Zytaruk: I guess when everything’s said and done, whoever continues as the police of jurisdiction will have to deal with bad feelings, bad blood for some time from the people who didn’t get their way, out in the community. Do you have any concerns about that?

Edwards: I think what’s important is in the community is the work that we do, is the work that any police force does, transparency in that work and effective communications. I also think with the RCMP the next step we’ll take is to build the next five-year strategic plan, and that plan will be critically important in how we engage with the community, governance of that plan and deliver those services because really it’s the priorities, goals and objectives of the community that we serve. And so I think that if that is done effectively, that we can move on in an extremely positive manner. Because at the end of the day it’s the quality of the police service that matters and the degree of public safety that we can establish and a feeling of safety in this community.

Zytaruk: Is there anything you want to express to our readers, our viewers, coming into a new year – new hopes, I guess?

Edwards: Absolutely. I think what I would want to say is I appreciate the patience of everybody in the community, I appreciate the ongoing support for policing, and I also want people in the community to know that myself and my team, we have this. We have public safety in order, we’ll continue to focus on that and manage that in whatever direction that the province directs us to go, and we’ve never let our foot off the pedal in that regard, and the statistics show that. I want the public to know that we continue to make that our number-one concern, is public safety in this community.

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