Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said during Monday’s council meeting she wants to “provide some clarity” on the furor in the media last week by Premier David Eby, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and the Surrey Police Union concerning the city’s refusal to pay 10 Surrey Police Service recruits.
“With all due respect to the premier, it is clear that he has not been properly briefed on the situation prior to making the statements that he did,” Locke said.
She said both the City of Surrey and the provincially-appointed administrator for the Surrey Police Board had flagged SPS budget overruns, and in light of the deficit, the SPS, was told in August and December to stop more hiring.
Last week, Eby called the city’s decision not to add the 10 recruits to the benefits system and payroll “incredibly frustrating.”
“These are folks who are willing to go out and do the difficult work of policing in their communities,” he said Jan. 11. “Surrey deserves a safe community and police officers need to get paid, for Pete’s sake.”
Union president Rick Stewart called it a “shocking decision” and charged that Locke “taking her frustration out on new Surrey Police recruit officers is a step too far.” The police union will cover their pay and benefits in the interim.
Locke also charged that “instead of addressing the SPS overspending, the solicitor general has decided that it makes more sense to attack me than to face the fact that the SPS still has no plan, still has no path forward, is over $26 million over budget and has up to 100 people on payroll that are not deployed on the front line but the City of Surrey is still paying their wages.”
The new budget has not been set or approved by council, she noted.
On Dec. 19 Surrey city manager Rob Costanzo informed SPB administrar Mike Serr and SPS Chief Constable Norm Lipinski in an email that in light of “the significant budget overage” in the SPB’s 2023 budget, and that council hasn’t yet made a decision on the budget proposed for 2024, in accordance with s. 27(6) of the Police Act – “which states that the board must not take an expenditure that is not specified in the board’s budget and approved by council” – that the SPB/SPS can’t add new hires to the city’s payroll system unless approved by the police of jurisdiction, which is currently the Surrey RCMP, “and within the existing approved budget allocation.”
Constanzo’s letter underlined an email Locke sent to Lipinski on Aug. 24 stating that the City of Surrey “will not approve any further hiring or personnel until all employees that have not been deployed for the past year or longer, are actively policing our city.”
Lawyer Peter German, advisor to the City of Surrey on policing, and former RCMP brass, told the Now-Leader the “situation is quite simple.” Despite being advised on Dec. 19 that it was over budget and not to hire any more officers, he said, the SPS “went ahead and apparently hired 10 more officers.”
“The Surrey Police Board has provided the city with a proposed budget for 2024 and if they want to do more hiring, then they have to have a budget to do it.”
But Surrey Police Board’s executive director Melissa Granum said the hirings were within authorized staffing levels. “The board is working with an authorized 2023 strength of 346 sworn police officers and the new recruits who were recently hired fit within that envelope,” she told the Now-Leader. “We currently have 344 police officers, with 218 of those deployed into operations in Surrey and an additional 56 waiting for their deployments.
“We thank the Surrey Police Union and the Province of BC for their support in guaranteeing that all new SPS employees will be paid on time, now and into the future until this issue with the city is resolved.”
Meanwhile, three Surrey councillors argue the city’s decision to withhold salaries from 10 SPS recruits is inexcusable.
“This is not just a failure of leadership, it’s a direct threat to the safety of Surrey’s residents,” Safe Surrey Coalition’s Doug Elford stated in an email. SSC Coun. Mandeep Nagra also took aim at Locke’s $500,000 PR campaign against the “NDP police transition,” saying she diverted half a million taxpayer dollars to “her own partisan political ad campaign instead of funding more boots on the ground. This is an egregious misallocation of taxpayer resources and an abuse of power.”
Finally, Surrey First councillor Linda Annis said Locke’s decision to not put the SPS recruits on the payroll reinforces the “level of petty politics” surrounding her opposition to the transition.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that the mayor continues to throw up roadblocks to the transition, wasting time and money,” Annis stated in a news release.
“While she won’t pay for the new recruits, she has found $500,000 for her politically motivated anti-SPS public relations plan. I’m embarrassed as a councillor and as a resident of Surrey that the mayor has treated these new recruits this way.
“What a terrible welcome to our city.”
During the Jan. 15 council meeting, Locke rebuked Annis, Elford and Nagra who, she claimed, “don’t seem to appreciate the significant financial implications that the proposed transition will have on Surrey taxpayers.”
Eby also weighed in on the PR campaign. “I understand the desire of the mayor to spend taxpayer money on advertising on leaflets on billboards on lawyers to fight this you know, I disagree with it. But you know, that’s her business,” he remarked.
Meantime, two minutes into Surrey council’s public hearing on Monday night, Locke called a recess to the meeting because protesters against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began chanting.
She reconvened the meeting 30 minutes later in a boardroom as the protesters remained in council chambers, chanting “Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry, Palestine will never die” among other slogans. The same thing happened at the Nov. 20 and Dec. 18 meetings, with protesters yelling in the chambers.
– With files from Beau Simpson and Anna Burns