The planned transition from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Surrey to the new Surrey Police Service is beginning to fray a little bit. It would seem from one on the outside looking in, that there is a lot of time being spent in that muddled grey “transition” area; the area now “shared” by two separate policing groups. In practise currently, effective control of the policing in the city is still in the shaky hands of the Mounties. Official city signs proclaim that the City of Surrey is “where the future is”. The problem is that nobody knows where what lays ahead in terms of policing, a city which has more than its share of criminal problems.
The longer the residents live in this partially castrated middle ground there will be significant implications for the overall police service to that community. As of today, the RCMP are the policing agency of record, and from that viewpoint, nothing has really outwardly changed. However, as the new Surrey Police Service officers are very slowly being sprinkled amongst the various Watches, there are increasing reports of declining morale and personal friction between the two groups. Members of the two groups are now sharing a patrol car, at least in a theoretical sense, but this changeover is turning into a grinding process with no end in sight.
This shared policing mandate is by no means a normalized policing model and it is clearly unsustainable long term. To expect two separate entities to be tasked to police the same jurisdiction but play by different rules administratively and operationally seems obviously untenable. Even more worrisome is that this may continue for the next number of months or apparently even years. As time marches on, things such as investigational process and file management have a very real chance of becoming very blurry.
For the clarity of record, I have been in favour of an independent Surrey Police Service for many years. This is due mainly to the sadly crumbling RCMP no longer able to deliver what they are if fact contracted to do. There is no idealized thought held that a version of a new police force is the panacea for all that ails policing. Ottawa and its over bureaucratized structures is the albatross hanging around the neck of the RCMP; it is not the performance of individual officers in day to day policing. The structural, operational, and resourcing hurdles now facing the officers of the RCMP continue to be soul destroying and there does not appear any willingness on the part of Ottawa to change. This blog continues to maintain that a trained officer in one uniform is on an individual level, not much different than any other police officer. The colour of the uniform is irrelevant, it is the structure of how they are being asked to operate that is the key to understanding both the problems and the solutions in policing.
That said, sufficient time has now passed since the announced development of the SPS and there are questions that need to be asked and answered as to the overall expectations of this new police service.
The most blatant and obvious question is how long is this going to take? The Surrey Police Board was formed in August 2020. The first SPS officer was deployed in 2021, and now it is projected according to their own “Strategic Plan” for 2022, that in May of 2023 they will have in place 295 sworn officers. At first blush that number seems reasonable, as recruitment, hiring and vetting of new officers is in fact a very time consuming process. Plausible until one considers that the Surrey RCMP currently consists of over 800 officers. So after 2.5 years, the SPS will have only about 36% of the anticipated need of the current RCMP. A little more alarming is that currently, again, according to their own strategic plan, there is no anticipated or formative deadline for this newly formed organization. That would and should seem unacceptable to any Surrey taxpayer.
A second question is to do with the amount of monies currently being spent and what is projected. The first proposed budget for this transition was $63.7 million and it was to cover for the years 2020-2024. So far, the new group has spent $25 million in 2021 and will be spending another $79 million in 2022. There are still two years to go and clearly they are already over budget. Their claim is that the extra costs are largely the result of spending in the area of information technology. Should one assume and accept that in the planning stages they did not anticipate an IT transition in all of its cost and ramifications?
Can the slowness of the development of this new police service along with the budgetary failings be attributed to the fact that it is being overseen by the bureaucratic sounding Surrey Police Transition Trilateral Committee? The fact that this “committee” consists of three levels of government coming together to oversee and supervise this process may be your most obvious explanation as to delay and lack of deadlines.
If you go to the SPS website looking for some insight you will be disappointed. It is the flavour of what constitutes government communication in this day and age, prodigiously filled with government baffle which seems designed to thwart any kind of real examination. You will see all the usual governmental language flags of “appeasement” and “inclusion”. The all too common phrases of “local partners”, “best practises”, “community engagement”, all framed within their newly polished and enshrined motto: “Safer. Stronger. Together”. (One can only wonder what someone was paid for such a benign and lacklustre motto.)
On the website, you will see allusions to Robert Peel and his 9 rules of Policing, but in particular his 7th rule which ended with his less than profound “…the police are the public and that the public are the police”. You will also see a section where are listed the core values of this new age police department which is using the phraseology such as “honour’ and “inclusiveness”. I am sure by this time most readers could guess at all the others.
To reach the citizens of Surrey and be able to respond to their needs, the SPS points to the fact that from June to October 2021 they engaged in large scale community consultation. This included, “public opinion surveys”, “stakeholder interviews,” and the use of “focus groups.” All this has led to their grand 2022 Strategic Plan.
If you examine this “Plan” in greater depth you will find it broken down into three parts; operational readiness, organizational development, and employee development and wellness. Inside all of these three categories of planned action you will find references to the further need for more “research” and further time needed to “develop”. Under operational readiness you will see that their goal includes developing “a file transfer strategy” and the development of an “operational and administrative manuals.” Under the heading of organizational development you will see plans to “research body worn cameras” and “research best practises in community programs” such as the program for a “school resource officer”. This would seem to suggest there is still a lot of research and development to follow.
This is not to say that this transition is not an enormous and often complicated undertaking. It is. One does get the sense as well that the Committee is trying to insure that all the officers of the 2000 applications the SPS say they have now received, do not completely wipe out some of the current and local municipal forces. They have now started reviewing applications from outside the Lower Mainland, so as not to completely wipe out departments such as West Vancouver, Delta, or Port Moody. This underlines the fact that this is as much a political process as an organizational process, that Police Services sequestered in Victoria is trying to orchestrate.
The SPS does seem to be on target in terms of catering to the whim of the special interest groups and the ridiculous and often gratuitous media coverage. They list their community “engagements” as having four meetings with the 2SLGBTQ+, and 21 meetings with the Indigenous. The actual day to day policing needs such as file management, the continuity of investigations and the ongoing need for sustained expertise in investigations is not mentioned in the “Strategic Plan”.
In previous blogs I have questioned those that have been chosen to lead this new SPS. Those doubts have not been alleviated by what has transpired so far. Mr.Lepinski with little doubt, is astute at reading the political winds, bending and curtseying to the social liberalized version of what constitutes policing in this day and age. Whether this type of leadership translates into a vibrant operational police force is quite another matter.
I have been told that Jennifer Hyland in charge of the Support Services group is also overseeing the purchase of Yeti water bottles, ArcTeryx clothing, and Lululemon workout gear for those now under her command– it is not clear whether the Surrey taxpayers would feel that this is appropriate use of transitional monies. She is the one overseeing the hiring of over 800 new officers, so one can only hope the thought of a paid-for water bottle will move that process along a little more quickly.
The other unknown in this SPS transition is the pro SPS-Mayor himself and the civic elections slated for October 15th, 2022. McCallum is a bit of a swollen buffoon, he has been for many years, and some of that character will be exposed in an upcoming ridiculous criminal trial where he is charged with mischief for a false claim of a protestor running over his foot. The fact that he is the political wedge and image for this new police force is at the very least a hindrance. However, as unpopular as he is, with numerous mayoral candidates he may once again outfox the likes of Brenda Locke by splitting the votes sufficiently amongst the eight current candidates. There are over 56 candidates for council, so good luck to the Surrey voters figuring that one out.
I remain convinced that a separate municipal agency is the only viable route for policing in Surrey. But, to say that the current leadership for this new entity is capable of pulling it off, on budget, and with an operational emphasis is still a very open question. Woke leadership is not what is needed right now. They are clearly emblematic of the majority of police leaders operating in this current climate, Lepinski and Hyland are inhalers of all things political, and they have survived and flourished regurgitating the narrative which does not offend and that caters to the special interest groups. The Surrey residents are currently being fed a pablum of meaningless verbiage, and if that is all they wanted, maybe, just maybe, they should have retained the forever opaque RCMP.