Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has temporarily suspended the Surrey Police Board – of which Mayor Brenda Locke was chairwoman – and appointed retired Abbotsford police chief Mike Serr as its replacement administrator.
“Today, I am announcing the appointment of Mike Serr as the administrator of the Surrey Police Board to assume the functions of the board to assist with Surrey’s transition to the SPS,” Farnworth stated in a press release Thursday afternoon. “All members of the Surrey Police Board have been suspended and they will resume their roles when the administrator’s appointment concludes.”
Farnworth noted Serr’s appointment was made under Section 8 of the Police Amendment Act “after careful consideration of the work by the Surrey Police Board, which has been limited due to the lack of progress from the City of Surrey in advancing the police model transition to the SPS.
“This need was identified by Jessica McDonald as the strategic implementation adviser in the course of her work on the transition and numerous meetings with key parties, subject matter experts and stakeholders,” Farnworth said.
“I want to personally thank each member of the board for volunteering their time and for their dedication and commitment, while undertaking this challenging work to date. I know the Surrey Police Board and each board member has done their best through what has been unique, challenging and complicated circumstances. I look forward to their continued work and their service to the people of Surrey once an administrator is no longer needed.”
Farnworth said by appointing Serr as administrator he’s “taking action to help move forward the transition (from the Surrey RCMP to Surrey Police Service) to completion.”
Locke could not be reached for comment but issued a statement late Thursday afternoon via email.
“Once again, the Province is demonstrating that their approach is nothing short of a provincial police takeover in Surrey,” she stated. “The move to suspend the Surrey Police Board and replace it with an administrator completely removes civilian oversight and governance of policing and was done without any consultation with the City. In effect, the Minister has removed checks and balances. Not only is the Province attempting to force Surrey into an expensive police transition and a double digit tax hike, but now they are taking control of policing away from the duly elected government to force through their expensive, disorganized, and flawed plan. The Minister needs to stop playing the blame game and take responsibility for lack of proper oversight and due diligence.”
Melissa Granum, executive director of the Surrey Police Board, declined to comment “at this time,” except to say that “the board respects the decision of the government.”
Surrey Police Service’s Chief Constable Norm Lipinski issued a statement late Thursday afternoon thanking the SPB for “the outstanding work they have done over the past three years to stand up a brand-new police agency while navigating an unprecedented policing transition.
“These board members have done an enormous amount of work to get Surrey Police Service to the point it is at today,” reads a quote attributed to Lipinski. “The work of good governance can be thankless, but strong policies, clear organizational direction, and transparent financial oversight are critical to both the organization and the public. I thank the Surrey Police Board members for their leadership, expertise and resilience, and I look forward to working with them again, once their appointments resume.”
Lipinski added that he’s looking forward to working with Serr.
“As an independent Administrator, Mr. Serr will assume all governance duties of the Surrey Police Board, ensuring that the civilian oversight and public accountability of Surrey Police Service will continue. I am confident that Mr. Serr will play a critical role in helping to expedite the policing transition with this streamlining of governance decisions for Surrey Police Service,” Lipinski said.
On Oct. 13, the City of Surrey filed a petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia seeking a judicial review of Farnworth’s July 19 order to proceed with the SPS, as the mayor continues to stands firm in the majority of council’s intention to stick with the RCMP as Surrey’s police of jurisdiction.
The provincial government has yet to file a response to Surrey’s petition with the court registry and “for reasons that are privileged” cannot provide an estimated date. Respondents served in Canada are typically given 21 days to respond.
At Surrey’s Oct. 16 council meeting Locke said she instructed city staff to undertake a review of the policing transition, from day one to now.
“I want us in Surrey to have a clear understanding of what has transpired over the last five years,” she said at that meeting.
“My position, this council’s position, has not changed,” she said Oct. 16. “I continue to oppose the transition because of the extraordinary cost for Surrey taxpayers that will deliver no public safety benefit.”