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Open letter: SPS chief weighs in on delayed final decision over who will police Surrey


The battle over who should police the city of Surrey is ramping up yet again, as the chief of the Surrey Police Service issues an open letter.

It’s been nearly a month since the B.C. government recommended for the city to continue with its transition to a municipal force.

On Wednesday, Norm Lipinski weighed in about the situation for the first time since the decision was made.

Speaking with CTV Morning Live, Lipinski said he believes a final decision in June is reasonable, after waiting nearly four weeks for a definite answer.

“Yes, it's going to take some time for people to review the provincial report, we understand that. But we would like to see a date set of when this would be concluded. That would be helpful for everyone,” said Lipinski.

Lipinski has been quiet since the provincial report was released, but says it’s time for the back and forth to end.

“Any major city in Canada has its own police service," he said. "And the number one issue is local accountability. I report to a board. The board is picked by the province from the community and the board does policy, hires the senior executive staff, does research pertaining to strategic direction, that is very clearly local accountability.”

In his letter, he expressed concerns over the impact of the continuing delays on law enforcement personnel and effective policing in Surrey.

“As the weeks, months and years tick by, individuals who work in policing in Surrey are increasingly distracted by worries about their futures,” reads the letter.

Premier David Eby was asked about the letter Wednesday, and told reporters the province makes sure when residents in Surrey call 911 they can get a police response.

“We have been working through (the Ministry of) Public Safety and Solicitor General with City of Surrey staff to make sure that the council and staffers have all the information they need to be able to make this important decision,” Eby said.

“There's a strong recommendation for the Minister of Public Safety about a direction here. And our advice is that there's an upcoming council meeting June 5 where a report will be presented and there'll be debate about this. And ultimately, we can all move forward to ensure that policing services are delivered in a way that ensures public safety not just for Surrey, but for surrounding communities as well.”

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth recommended that Surrey continue the transition to a municipal police force at the end of April.

He cited concerns about Surrey RCMP’s ability to quickly rehire officers if it remains the police of jurisdiction in the city.

However, the recommendation is not binding.

Surrey’s Mayor Brenda Locke is adamant about keeping the Mounties after her majority on council voted to retain them six months ago.

In a statement to CTV News, Farnworth says he understands the city will make a decision on or after June 5.

“Ministry officials have been in regular communication with the City of Surrey to support the timely exchange of information with the city, including providing a confidential copy of the director’s report,” Farnworth said in a statement.

“Non-disclosure agreements were sent to all city-identified representatives and we have received about half of them back and have provided the unredacted report to them. We will continue to provide the full reports to those who sign the NDA.”

Farnworth has said if the city chooses to keep the RCMP it will not have financial support from the provincial government and will be subject to several binding conditions to ensure adequate levels of policing are maintained.

Locke has said she’s confident that city staff could will come up with a plan to keep the RCMP while meeting all the province’s conditions.

"The B.C. Police Act states clearly: The choice of police is under the purview of the municipality," Locke said on the day Farnworth’s announcement was made.

CTV News Vancouver has reached out to her office for an update on the progress of that plan, but was told she’s not available for an interview.

The open letter comes as no surprise to former West Vancouver police chief Kash Heed.

“I don't think it's going to be ended through some reasonable decision being made here. I think at the end of the day, the minister for the province has to look at whether he can do it under the current Police Act, which I believe he can,” Heed said.

He believes the policing limbo puts public safety at risk.

"The taxpayer's the loser here, regardless which way you look at this," he said. "Regardless (of) if you retain the RCMP or you go with the SPS, the taxpayer is going to be the one that loses out at the end of the day.” 

The SPS says the province’s recommendation is “definitive” and provided evidence-based rationale to support its direction.

It is concerned that the City of Surrey continues to weigh its options with no identified timeline for a decision.

The transition to a municipal police service was requested by the City of Surrey in November 2018—a key election promise of then Safe Surrey Coalition Mayor Doug McCallum.

A plan was approved by the Province in February 2020.

“It is extremely concerning that changing a municipality’s policing model after one election cycle can even be contemplated by various levels of government,” wrote the SPS.

The municipal force says it already has 46 per cent of the officers currently required to police Surrey.

Deployed SPS officers comprise over 25 per cent of the Surrey RCMP’s total detachment strength and 50 per cent of its frontline officers.

“Making a change in policing is a decision for generations of Surrey residents, not for only four years,” writes the SPS.

The Service touts increased transparency on policing for Surrey residents, including the posting of monthly financials, staffing levels, public board meetings and collective agreements.

“SPS has done its best to stay out of the politics of this policing transition, however, as the delays continue and the merits of SPS are debated, we have to speak up,” said the SPS.

“Policing is too consequential to the community and to our 400 employees for this debate to not include SPS’s voice. After almost three years of uncertainty – it is time for a clear and safe path forward for policing in Surrey,” the letter concluded.

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Ian Hollliday Top Stories

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