The first cohort of Surrey Police Service officers on patrol with Surrey Mounties since late November have responded to more than 1,000 calls for service already.
In August, the SPS said it would be putting 50 of its officers on the streets by Nov. 30, but only 29 have been to date. At the last Surrey Police Board meeting Chief Const. Norm Lipinski explained that only 29 of the 50 have been deployed so far because the other 21 are awaiting RCMP security clearance.
“Because we are embedded in the RCMP we have to go through their security clearance process. If you are a former RCMP member that takes about a month. If you are a municipal police officer, it takes up to 22 weeks,” he said on Nov. 30. “As soon as they get cleared they’ll be ready to deploy.”
But Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum put the blame on the RCMP for what he calls “huge roadblocks” in getting security clearances for SPS officers.
During the City of Surrey’s Dec. 22 finance committee meeting, McCallum said “we are feeling a resistance, serious resistance, by the RCMP on our deployment.”
He said the “normal” time for getting security clearances is “one month.”
“They have said to us, the Surrey Police Service, that (for) our officers it will take them six months before they can be deployed to get security clearances. That is absolutely ridiculous. I’ve never heard in my career of taking six months just to give a security clearance, when in fact our own Surrey Police officers probably already have the highest security clearances.”
Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, in charge of the Surrey RCMP, responded Jan. 6 that the RCMP “categorically rejects any inference that we are deliberately impeding progress of deployment or using the required security clearance process to delay the Surrey police transition.
“The RCMP is bound by guidelines set by the Treasury Board of Canada, which all parties are aware of, and will not compromise pre-existing security clearance requirements,” Edwards said.
Meantime, Ian MacDonald, media liaison for the SPS, said the calls the SPS have responded to so far have included property crimes, wellness checks on vulnerable people, disturbances and assaults.
Meantime, the Surrey RCMP says it wants to assure residents that despite 42 officers and 12 city employees being off work by Thursday afternoon due to either testing positive for COVID-19 or awaiting testing, the force has a multi-layered plan to deal with “worst-case” scenarios and the detachment is not presently in a position where public safety is compromised.
Sgt. Elenore Sturko said eight officers are expected to return to work “imminently.”
“It’s dynamic and changing quickly.”
On Monday, Jan. 10, Cpl. Vanessa Munn said the Surrey RCMP won’t be providing further updates on the numbers, “or day-by-day counts, at the direction of E Division.
“It’s very cumbersome and it’s hard to be accurate because the numbers fluctuate so much.”
MacDonald said Thursday that while to his knowledge none of the SPS officers on patrol are among those who’ve been infected, the SPS has not gone unscathed by the virus.
“I only know of a couple who are away from work because either they tested positive or it’s suspected,” he said. “They’re not all police officers, I should clarify that. I just know of staff. At least one civilian and I think a couple on the sworn member side but none of whom are deployed.”
“Not to pick on the RCMP or any other organization, but we’re kind-of in a unique circumstance right now in that we have a surplus of members and of course with our deployment at this point only the first 29, we have well in excess of 50 officers who would be ready to be deployed today.”
Sturko said of the patrolling officers, “our Covid-affected officers numbers do include some SPS officers.
“More than one for sure is from SPS.”
He said the SPS officers have on average eight years experience with either the RCMP or another police force mostly in B.C.
As for more of them heading out on patrol, MacDonald told the Now-Leader that “we’ve heard” another 12 should be cleared to go this month and another nine after that.
“We would have ample numbers of police officers that could absolutely work alongside Surrey RCMP, and that’s what they’re readying to do in any event, regardless of the timeline.”
During a swearing-in on Jan. 4, MacDonald said, the SPS swore in badge number 182. When the Surrey RCMP, as a result of a plebescite, took over from the Surrey Police on May 1, 1951, the latter had 21 officers. In a nod to that, the SPS began its roster with badge number 21. “We started at badge number 22,” he said, in homage to the Surrey Police.
Lipinski wears badge 22.
– with files by Lauren Collins