British Columbia

First officers with Surrey Police Service start work with orientation from RCMP

A joint press conference with the Surrey Police Service and the outgoing Surrey RCMP detachment is taking place Tuesday morning, where the details of how the two forces will work side by side in the months and years ahead are expected to be outlined.

SPS officers being paired with RCMP officers to get familiar with the city, officer-in-charge says

A mockup of a Surrey Police Service vehicle pictured in 2019. Surrey's new police department has been hiring for many months, but has yet to deploy officers on the ground. (CBC)

After three years of being theoretical and in planning stages, the first few officers with the independent Surrey police force have started their first shifts in the city.

Twenty-nine officers with the Surrey Police Service (SPS) have been paired with officers from the outgoing Surrey RCMP for orientation, leaders from both forces said at a news conference Tuesday. Their first day was Monday.

The staggered transition means officers will be responding to calls and working together for several months.

"Initially, SPS officers are being paired with Surrey RCMP members to help familiarize them with policing in our city," Asst. Comm. Brian Edwards, the officer-in-charge of the Surrey RCMP, said Tuesday.

"The public can expect to see both RCMP and SPS uniformed members working in Surrey." 

Officers from both departments to answer calls

SPS officers will have a least a week's orientation with RCMP officers, officials said Tuesday. After that, they will shadow Mounties for several shifts before they start responding to calls on their own.

The new officers will drive RCMP vehicles "for the time being," Edwards said.

All calls for police service should still go to Surrey RCMP as they are still the police agency in charge.

"We want [people] to be aware that they might be seeing one or two uniforms show up to calls for service, but that when they place a call, whether that's 911 or to a non-emergency line, they're going to be dealt with the same way they were last week," SPS media liaison officer Ian MacDonald said Monday.

Majority of new officers from outside Surrey

Exactly where the new SPS officers have come from — and how quickly they can be hired — has been a point of some tension in recent months, as the new force begins scaling up staff to eventually replace the approximately 800 police officers currently at the Surrey RCMP detachment. 

Of the 135 SPS officers actively working, less than 20 per cent have come directly from the Surrey RCMP, with the rest coming mostly from other police forces in the region.

Const. Jas Dhillon, who joined the SPS from Delta Police, said Tuesday he made the switch because Surrey is where he grew up.

"This is where I was born and raised ... it was a no-brainer."

 

Fifty officers were due to be on the ground Tuesday, based on past commitments.

The remaining 21 officers can't start yet because they still don't have the specific security clearance they need to temporarily work with the RCMP, according to Chief Const. Norm Lipinski.

The new officers have an average of eight years' experience, he added.

Last week, the B.C. government — which gave final approval to Surrey's move from the RCMP to an independent police force in 2020 — capped the number of officers the SPS could hire next year at less than 200, citing "the effects of officer attrition from other police agencies in B.C." as one of the reasons. 

Vancouver Coun. Colleen Hardwick welcomed the cap, saying her city's police department had already lost 21 officers to the new Surrey force. 

"The alternative is a serious public safety issue right across Metro Vancouver," she said. 

But MacDonald said the transition was being handled responsibly. 

"We felt we had capabilities and capacity to bring on 400 new officers in 2022 … it's an ongoing negotiation," he said. 

"As one agency starts to scale up, the other agency inevitably has to scale back … we're just going to continue pushing forward but I can assure you that there's a lot of interest from other people and new recruits to join us."

Protestors opposed to transitioning to a municipal police force in Surrey outside city hall on Sept. 15. (Keep the RCMP in Surrey/Facebook)

Divisive transition

The move from RCMP policing to local control has been rife with tension from the moment it became a promise of Mayor Doug McCallum's 2018 election campaign. 

Promised timelines and budgets for the new force have come under scrutiny; a petition was launched to try to convince the provincial government to force a referendum on the change; and McCallum has had several altercations with individuals opposed to the change, one of which resulted in an ongoing police investigation. 

Just this month, Asst. Commissioner Edwards was highly critical of a tweet by McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition party that claimed just six per cent of city residents supported the RCMP, saying it was part of "deliberate efforts to undermine confidence" in public safety.

Macdonald said he was hopeful the event and the deployment of SPS officers shortly thereafter would begin a new era for the transition. 

"You won't see that kind of politically divisive banter happening between police officers," he said. 

"Hopefully, the lowering of the temperature will actually come as a result of officers from the two different organizations working together in a common cause, maintaining public safety."

With files from Rhianna Schmunk

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