An “Ideas Box” greets residents outside the entrance to the city’s first public consultation meeting, on Surrey’s policing transition, at the Cloverdale Recreation Centre on May 23, 2019. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

An “Ideas Box” greets residents outside the entrance to the city’s first public consultation meeting, on Surrey’s policing transition, at the Cloverdale Recreation Centre on May 23, 2019. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

COLUMN

ZYTARUK: The Surrey Police Service really needs to get its act together

Credibility is like sweet water in the desert, held in cupped hands. Open your fingers, and it spills onto the sand, gone forever

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So let it be written…

Such is the human condition that newcomers must prove themselves.

The new kid on the block, the new kid at school, the new worker at a job site, even new prison inmates must show what they are made of.

It’s no different for a new police force. And by any objective standard, the Surrey Police Service is having difficulty establishing its credibility as a viable alternative to the RCMP it aims to replace.

It has big boots to fill, apparently. Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index for 2019 indicates that over five years crime dropped in Surrey – under the RCMP’s watch – by 14.3 per cent while increasing in other big cities like Winnipeg (61.5 per cent), Calgary (52.2 per cent), Toronto (20.2 per cent) and Vancouver (1.2 per cent).

A police service is necessarily held to a higher standard of accountability and morality than most institutions simply because its reason for being is to uphold a set of laws that is designed to frustrate anarchy on our streets, in our homes and workplaces, and basically in the community at large. The RCMP’s motto Maintiens le Droit – Uphold the Right – dates back to 1873, when it was the North-West Mounted Police.

To meet this higher standard, credibility is key. Police must lead by example. Credibility is like sweet water in the desert, held in cupped hands. Open your fingers, and it spills onto the sand, gone forever.

Of course as a human institution a police service will not be perfect, though it must be better.

The Surrey Police Service is tasked with proving itself, to the public it will serve, that it will be better than the RCMP detachment it is set to replace.

Unfortunately to date, this fledgling police service, even before its first patrol, is failing to demonstrate it has the right stuff to replace the RCMP with a superior service given it thus far has proven to be a reliable source of drama. Keystone Cops, without the humour.

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Problems began straight out of the gate. Shortly after council unanimously voted to replace the RCMP with a city-made police force, lack of transparency over costs and other logistics led to a schism on council that saw four of nine members turn on the project. In the spring of 2019, after months of criticism that residents were being kept in the dark about the costs and design of the new police force, Surrey residents en-masse voiced their disappointment with a series of ‘public engagement’ meetings staged by the city. This frustration was aimed not only at city hall but ultimately at the provincial government as well, and endures to the present.

Against this backdrop of mistrust, the Surrey Police Board was formed in June 2020. Four months after its first meeting, in December, board member Harley Chappell rejects calls to resign after it is revealed he was photographed with members of the Hells Angels in 2018, bringing into question the vetting process. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth admitted posting that photo on social media was “not the wisest thing to do.”

Then, Chief Constable Norm Lipinski in February 2021 took a drubbing for arranging for a PR firm to be paid $42,000, when he was deputy chief of the Delta Police, to deal with the outfall resulting from a dispute involving his boss’s wife.

Then, that same month, Bob Rolls, a Surrey police board member who was on the governance and finance committee, resigned seven months into his term to move to Vancouver Island.

The latest stink rising out of this policing transition hit the media last Thursday, when it was revealed one of the Surrey Police Service’s latest hires – Inspector Jeff Metcalfe, leaving his job as Divisional Duty Officer, BC-RCMP Criminal Operations to join Surrey’s new city police force –recently came off a 90-day driving prohibition for being impaired behind the wheel, once again bringing into question the vetting process.

My goodness, these guys should have their own show on HBO.

What’s next? Stay tuned.

If the Surrey Police Service wants to prove itself as a worthy successor to the Surrey RCMP, it really needs to get its act together.

So let it be done.

Tom Zytaruk is a staff reporter with the Now-Leader. Email him at tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

Policesurrey rcmpzytaruk column so let it be done