Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, the Surrey RCMP’s 21st officer in charge, could well be its last if the city makes good on its plan to replace the RCMP – which has policed these parts since 1951 – with a made-in-Surrey police force.
While his job surely must be stressful, especially under the present circumstances, his comportment does not suggest he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Edwards, 53, weighs his words carefully but is not guarded. He has a disarming nature about him, suggesting he’s the kind of guy you’d be happy to break bread with, or enjoy a cold beer.
In colloquial terms, he’s what you’d call ‘good people.’
The Now-Leader sat down with Surrey’s top cop in his detachment office, where a lava lamp merrily bubbles next to a police radio, and a “Best Dad” ribbon hangs next to his desk. Across the room, there’s a painting, which his son did in Grade 4, that says “Fun” in big block letters.
“You know how they are, eh,” he says of his prized best dad ribbon, the fun picture, and the boy who made them both. “That stuff sticks with you. There’s nothing more important to me, as important as this job is.”
From here, Edwards commands 843 Mounties in Canada’s largest RCMP detachment.
Among their immediate concerns is gang violence.
“Key on that is not just the immediate band-aid, and addressing of that shooting, but really working for long-term change,” he says. “To really disrupt recruitment into gangs.
“We’re no longer in an environment where the police are in charge of public safety, that’s a shared responsibility, and there’s a degree of arrogance if the police think that they can solely fix those problems for the community. We’re one partner – we’re a very important partner because of the things that we can do, but the partnering with the school district and so many of these other agencies, where you see the people that give so much to the community, is fantastic.”
Edwards took the helm on Jan. 6. Running Canada’s largest RCMP detachment is a major challenge at best, but navigating it through the trying waters presented by the city’s goal to replace it with its own city police force is definitely not for the faint if heart.
Edwards recently spoke with Now-Leader reporter Tom Zytaruk about what he’s learning and hopes to accomplish as Surrey’s top cop.
Now-Leader: If the city’s plan to set up a city police force is realized, do you expect a majority of Surrey RCMP officers will join the new city force or stay on with the RCMP?
Edwards: That’s a question that I’ve considered in my mind for some time. At this point it is still difficult to answer that question. The reason is, because the terms and conditions of employment for members that would go over with the Surrey Police Department remain unknown, and this involves important questions such as pension, rate of pay, seniority status, ability to advance within that organization. So that’s why we have resisted conducting internal polling because it would be uninformed. So I find that a difficult question to answer because the competing terms and conditions that are known to those that are unknown, so a difficult question for me, and I believe for members, to answer at this point in time.
Now-Leader: You’ve been Surrey RCMP’s officer-in-charge for not quite two months. What have you learned in that time?
Edwards: The first thing I learned is I absolutely love the job. And it’s probably the best job that I’ve ever had. And why is that? I believe because of the connection with the community, and the people that I work with. The people I work with, the members in this detachment, do such an excellent job on a day by day basis that the energy that comes from that is something that I think supports me and what I do, and truly the members that are in Surrey love being in Surrey and serving the community, and so I’ve had so many members come up to me and say, “You’re going to love it here.” In fact, that’s turning out to be the case. I’ve had the opportunity since I’ve been in charge to be out with the mobile street enforcement team that police mental health, outreach team, I’ve gone to the basketball classic, I attended a Project Lavender presentation this week, and the feedback from the community is so positive. So what I’ve learned is that we’re really connected to this community and we have a lot of support – even more than I had thought – so that’s what I’ve learned really in the first two months on the job.
Now-Leader: What have you accomplished in that time?
Edwards: Starting to get to know the members, where their hearts and minds are at, the services that they’re providing to the community on a daily basis. I’ve used that time to get out and meet folks in the community; that includes the Surrey Board of Trade, I’ve been to Sophie’s Place, and walked a beat with the mobile street enforcement team – I did that last week, in Whalley, and that was just a tremendous experience. So I’ve been able to connect with the community, and I’ve been able to connect with our members in a very positive way and it shows me first-hand the services that we’re providing, because that’s important to me, not to just read about it, but to spend these two months in getting out with the front line and seeing the services that they’re providing and that’s going to allow me moving forward to be more strategic in what we do or don’t need in this community.”
Now-Leader: And what do you hope to accomplish?
Edwards: Delivering on our strategic plan, the four pillars of our strategic plan, and that’s set for 2018 to 2022, so that’s our crime reduction, community engagement and mobilization, member wellness and continuous improvement. I’ve verified that this mayor supports that moving forward, so those four pillars that we’ve already laid out, I want to continue to deliver on those areas. Of course gun violence, gang violence and the use of weapons is where we’re also going to continue to focus, as we always have and will continue to do.
Edwards: The choice of interface between the RCMP and the city is one that has a wide degree of discretion under the municipal police unit agreements and what you will see is different cities are employing different mechanisms outside of a police board that works for them in the circumstances of their relationship with the RCMP. In this case, the city has chosen certain interface and disbanded that, and that is a choice under the Municipal Police Unit Agreement that is one that the city has chosen, and I’ll leave it at that.
Now-Leader: What keeps you awake at night?
Edwards: Member wellness, and community wellness. I want to ensure that when I wake up in the morning that our members through the course of that shift in the evening, and of course during the day that I’m here, that none of our people are hurt. Of course this extends to the community, because member wellness relates, I think, to community wellness, and that we are effectively addressing crime in this community and that I’m achieving the proper balance between crime reduction, prevention and interdiction of crime.”
Now-Leader: What do you think of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign?
Edwards: I very much appreciate the support of those people. There is a campaign that was organically created by these folks and I have used that in my messaging to staff, both regular members and municipal employees, that we have tremendous community support because it’s important that I maintain morale in this detachment to provide services on a going-forward basis. So I very much appreciate the efforts that they have put forth. Again, it’s an organic movement and to me it shows the members that notwithstanding the efforts to move to transition by the city that they have strong community support. Because I believe that’s important when they take the car out, and they’re going to calls, that they know the community is behind them. And I firmly believe that they are. Again, notwithstanding the efforts of the city, we need to continue to provide a top quality police service and knowing that the community is behind you is a key component of that for police officers and our civilian staff.
Now-Leader: Your predecessor, Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, said in December that Surrey council’s decision to not approve the hiring of more police officers in its 2020 budget will have a “detrimental affect” on policing and on the health and wellness of police officers and support staff. This, he warned, will force the detachment to review its policing services. Now, that was back when it was thought the city was growing by roughly 1,000 people each month. It’s since been revealed that number is more likely about 1,400. Have you had to make any adjustments, and if yes, what are they?
Edwards: I agree with Dwayne McDonald that in a city that’s facing pressures in relation to population growth that police service, as well as other community services, are going to face increased demands. In this case, part of my survey and approach has been to determine where those pressures are that are starting to emerge. At this point, we have a strong balance in terms of criminal enforcement, community outreach, and prevention programs. So to make adjustments is not easy because if you simply move a body from one area into another area, you may create a deficit or lack of service in that area. And you may lose continuity. So, we are continuing to look at the number of calls that are coming in, which calls require service, where those pressures are. And it may come to a point at which the pressures in one area exceed the amount of risk we would create in another area to move a body. I’m not there yet, because there are no easy solutions to that, but we will, or I will, continue to look at the adequacy of policing in this community and if I need to make adjustments to maintain an adequate level of policing in an area, then I’ll do that.”
Now-Leader: How would you say the morale is of your officers in light of this Damocles sword – the process of replacing the RCMP in Surrey – hanging over them?
Edwards: There is no question the uncertainty created by the efforts to transition to a municipal police force has an impact on members, and municipal employees as well. The degree of impact varies amongst individuals. I will say, however, that there is such a strong connection to the community in this detachment and there is such a deep rooted sense of community service that I see in the members, that they love working in Surrey, they choose to be in Surrey. So, despite the degree of uncertainty, the commitment to the community and the service levels are where they’ve always been, if not better. And I think what you see there is that degree of professionalism, and service to the community is something that they have partitioned and know that they need to continue to deliver to keep the community safe, and they’re unwilling to compromise on that point.
Now-Leader: Have you read the report of the joint provincial-city committee tasked with overseeing the transition from the RCMP to a city police force, and if you have, would you say its conclusions are sound?
Edwards: No I haven’t read it; I don’t believe the report is available.
Now-Leader: When did you last speak with Mayor McCallum, and what did you two discuss?
Edwards: I meet with Mayor McCallum every second week and we discuss the policing over the course of the previous two weeks, any trending in crimes, and strategic directions and day-to-day business of policing.
Now-Leader: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Edwards: I want to give you fulsome answers because the community will read this, not just to read a bunch of platitudes but really from the heart. I believe that the members in Surrey truly love being here. It’s amazing many people have reached out to me when we have vacancies. Again, notwithstanding transition, members are wanting to come into Surrey and serve here. That just speaks to me that the direction that this detachment is headed, and the efforts that have been made to create a healthy environment here. I’m delighted to be participating in this year’s Vaisakhi parade. The reason I’ve done so much outreach and been out in the community is because I really wanted to assess how we’re interacting with it…the feedback has been fantastic. So we have a really strong level of community support there which really makes this job wonderful to me. I feel so privileged and honoured to have this job because really all the work that’s done under me is what I get to represent to the community. Just so pleased and proud of our members.