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Amid gang war, Surrey RCMP hiring freeze doesn’t concern incoming SPS chief

About 1,000 new people move to Surrey each month. Over the past three years city council has frozen its police force in anticipation of a transition to the Surrey Police Service, which is now two years delayed.
Chief Norm Lipinski of the incoming Surrey Police Service answered media questions at a virtual press conference earlier this week
Chief Norm Lipinski of the incoming Surrey Police Service says he’s not concerned about taking over for a police force that has been subject to a hiring freeze for the past three years, as gang violence escalates in the region.

On Tuesday Lipinski staged an online press conference to unveil the new Surrey Police Service (SPS) badge and took written questions from media over an online platform.

Asked by Glacier Media about city council’s decision to freeze the Surrey RCMP during the transition process, Lipinski said: “I’m not concerned and the reason is, thus far we have a lot of interest from a variety of police agencies from across Canada to join our ranks.”

The question had nothing to do with the recruitment process and a follow-up asked if he has spoken to the police board’s chair Doug McCallum about how many officers he anticipates in 2024, the first anticipated full year for SPS.

“We’ve had ongoing dialogue not only with the board chair but the board itself in its entirety. That’s a bit of a ways out but we do know as the city grows the Surrey Police Service will also grow,” he said.

“We will look at that number a little more closely once that budget cycle comes closer,” added Lipinski.

If council continues on its trajectory, the Surrey RCMP force could be frozen for five years, in which time an estimated 60,000 people will have moved into the city.

While SPS has now unveiled its badge, which includes a Coast Salish eye under the monarch’s crown, it has not produced a five-year financial plan.

A June 2019 transition report budgeted $19.4 million for transition of officers (hiring new SPS officers before Surrey RCMP folds and maintaining some Surrey RCMP officers to transfer files). Then, the first full year of SPS was anticipated to be 2022 and annual operating costs were pegged at $197.8 million.

Surrey is now in the midst of a flare-up of gang violence and deadly shootings.

Lipinski said it is important for all police departments in the region to work together to address the current crisis, which includes the recent killing of a corrections officer in a public parking lot in neighbouring Delta.

Lipinski did not address how the hiring freeze in Surrey may impact crime. In December 2019, outgoing Surrey RCMP Officer-in-Charge Dwayne McDonald warned that some officers working in crime prevention will likely have to be deployed to the streets.

“You can only do so much with the resources you’re given. At some point in time if your calls for service and demands for resources are going up, and your resources remain stagnant, you have to look at how you deploy those resources. So at some point in time those programs may or may not have to be reviewed,” said McDonald.

The transition process has since been delayed by roughly two years, to date.

Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon said he sees a lot of unanswered questions about the transition.

“It would be a good idea” to present a budget at this point in time, said Gordon.

“Most complex organizations project over a five-year span,” he said.

Gordon also said more officers don’t necessarily reflect crime rates, but a hiring freeze of upwards of four or five years will likely impact crime prevention.

He said proactive community policing is important, and especially in a multicultural city such as Surrey. To that end he says Lipinski’s announcement to hire SPS community safety officers (CSO) by the end of this year is a good move.

“What you can do with CSOs, as opposed to sworn members of the police service, is hire people who have special skills for that community. So you can, for example, hire someone who doesn’t have the fitness levels that might be required but has fluent Punjabi and Hindi and understands the cultural dynamics. You can bring in First Nations people as well,” said Gordon.

Gordon anticipates more significant transition costs when it comes to handing over active files.

“You’re going to have to have a lot of shadowing going on,” between Surrey RCMP and SPS, he said. “You can’t turn a key and start up on day one.”