City of Surrey passes on $250 million in provincial cash for policing transition

The provision of up to $250 million in direct funding from the Government of British Columbia was not enough to entice the City of Surrey to move forward with its transition to a municipal police department.

The provincial government gave Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and City Council until Tuesday afternoon to accept the deal. The money would go towards supporting any added costs of transitioning between the Surrey RCMP and the Surrey Police Service (SPS) and reducing police-related tax pressures on Surrey residents and businesses.

“Mayor Brenda Locke and Surrey city council have failed to act in the best interest of the people of Surrey. Once again, they have demonstrated they want to continue this conflict rather than working together to complete the transition and keep people safe,” said Mike Farnworth, the BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, on Tuesday after the municipality rejected the deal.

According to Farnworth, the offer of up to $250 million over 10 years to the City of Surrey was made after the municipal government in January 2024 asked the provincial government to negotiate an agreement with them to complete the transition to SPS.

This included a baseline agreement of $150 million over the first five years of the agreement, plus up to $20 million per year over the second five-year period if the SPS officers are more expensive than RCMP officers.

Farnworth said that as recently as last week, Locke wrote to him advising that City Council agreed in principle to the financial commitment. But they ultimately later decided to reject the deal, which signals the City’s intent to continue with its court challenge against the province over the matter.

“In the interest of moving forward, we negotiated in good faith to provide the city with the reassurance they told us they needed. Unfortunately, it’s clear that Mayor Locke and Surrey city council would rather drag this out for years to come, instead of working together to do what’s best for people and businesses in Surrey,” said Farnworth.

The Minister says the provincial government is confident it will be successful in defeating the municipal government’s court challenge.

As well, the provincial government is now moving forward to override the municipal government’s authority over its policing matters by using the $150 million from the rejected deal to directly support the transition to the SPS until it is fully completed. The Surrey Police Board will be reinstated by June 1, 2024, with consultation with the City on potential board appointees and the creation of an advisory committee between Ministry and City staff to reach an agreement on the annual SPS budgets.

SPS was first formed in August 2020, following the direction of the previous makeup of City Council led by then-Mayor Doug McCallum. The department’s workforce and operations has gradually grown in size ever since, but short of being the lead police department of the jurisdiction. The Surrey RCMP is still the lead for policing within Surrey.

As of March 2024, SPS has grown to 354 sworn police officers and 59 civilian employees. Its officers are deployed to frontline policing, investigative sections, gang enforcement, traffic services, police mental health outreach, and community services. They are currently integrated into the Surrey RCMP detachment, under the operational command of the RCMP.

Over the years, since the 2022 civic election campaign, Locke has expressed her concerns over the potential significant added structural costs to the City’s annual operating budget from the possibly higher costs of having a standalone municipal police department.

“Any additional costs that end up getting passed on to the people of Surrey are the result of the failure of the mayor and council,” continued Farnworth.

“Although we are disappointed in the actions of the mayor and council, the transition will continue and look forward to announcing the target date of a change of command shortly.”

In response to Farnworth’s statements, Locke says the provincial government did not satisfy various commitments regarding the policing transition under the deal, and as a result, “accepting the offer would be to the detriment of our residents and overall public safety in Surrey.”

Locke’s grievances include the provincial government’s “failure” to develop a plan or model for the new police force, a transition plan, or a completion date for the transition.

“This dispute is about the City’s ability to choose its policing model. The City’s voters have chosen the RCMP and City Council has accordingly resolved to maintain the RCMP as its municipal police force,” stated Locke.

“As is customary in litigation, the parties engaged in Without Prejudice discussions. The City respects the confidentiality of that process. It does not agree with the representations in the Minister’s statement. It is the City’s position that the Province provided no firm financial commitment that would provide redress to Surrey taxpayers for the full cost of transitioning to a police force they did not vote for.”