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LIPINSKI: Policing staff in Surrey serve under dark cloud as transition debate drags on

It’s unfortunate that Surrey’s policing model continues to be debated after province’s report
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As the debate about the transition continues in Surrey, those who work in policing continue to work under the strain of uncertainty, Surrey Police Service Chief Norm Lipinski says. (Photo: Anna Burns)

As the wait for a final decision on the future of Surrey policing continues, Surrey Police Service is expressing concern over the impact these continuing delays are having on law enforcement personnel and effective policing in Surrey.

In an April 28 news release, the provincial government recommended the City of Surrey continue its transition to SPS “because it ensures public safety,” while the City and RCMP plans were found to “present significant risk to adequate and effective levels of policing in Surrey and province” due to RCMP recruitment challenges and vacancy issues across B.C.

While the province was definitive in its recommendation for SPS and provided evidence-based rationale in a public report, the City of Surrey continues to weigh its options with no identified timeline for a decision.

On Aug. 6, 2020, SPS was established as a bonafide police service in B.C. However, since that time, our organization and our employees have been under a cloud of uncertainty as various individuals and groups began to advocate for a reversal of the transition, resulting in our employees having the future of their jobs questioned both online and in person on a daily basis. Despite this pressure, our employees – now 400 strong – have continued to serve Surrey with professionalism.

The continuing delays weigh heavily on SPS employees and their families. No doubt this is true for staff who serve with the Surrey RCMP as well. As the weeks, months, and years tick by, individuals who work in policing in Surrey are increasingly distracted by worries about their futures.

As we have often said before, the physical and mental wellness of police officers and support staff is a critical element in their ability to effectively take care of the community.

SEE ALSO: Surrey mayor wants council to make ‘final and informed’ decision on policing transition this month

It is unfortunate that Surrey’s policing model continues to be debated, despite the fact that the transition to a municipal police service was requested by the City of Surrey in November 2018, approved by the province in February 2020, and recommended for completion by the province in April 2023.

Furthermore, it is extremely concerning that changing a municipality’s policing model after one election cycle can even be contemplated by various levels of government.

It is critical that those in a decision-making position understand some key facts of Surrey’s current policing situation:

• Completing the transition to SPS has been identified by the province as the only option that will ensure public safety and provide adequate and effective levels of policing in Surrey.

• SPS already has 46 per cent of the police officers currently required to police Surrey. Deployed SPS officers currently comprise more than 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.

Finally, SPS’s modern policing model is already showing early signs of success:

• Increased transparency on policing for Surrey residents including the posting of monthly financials, staffing levels, public board meetings, and collective agreements.

• Enhanced de-escalation training and low use of force complaints.

• Unprecedented application numbers in a time when police recruiting has been challenging across North America.

• Indigenous Engagement Strategy and consultation is well underway.

• 98 per cent officer retention rate.

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

Norm Lipinski is Chief Constable of the Surrey Police Service.


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