Surrey police transition costs skyrocket

No new Surrey RCMP officers planned in 2021, as new municipal force will be delayed until late 2022

Surrey’s police transition will cost at least 40% more than previously planned after city officials tacked on an additional $18.5 million to their latest estimate in the proposed 2021 operating budget.

Furthermore, the new police service will not be ready by April 2021 as originally scheduled, but rather “fundamentally complete” by the end of 2022 – and until this time the city is not planning to add more Surrey RCMP police officers.

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The transition capital costs have grown from $45 million – as initially estimated in June 2019 – to $63.7 million.

City staff is not speaking to the media about the budget. Mayor Doug McCallum has also declined to comment. City council will discuss the proposed budget in council chambers on Monday, November 30, at 2 p.m. It is suggested by staff that the public provide input to the finance committee through the city clerk's office at 604-591-4132 or by emailing clerks@surrey.ca.

The budget specifically emphasizes the new cost estimate includes a new IT system for the planned Surrey Police Service (SPS), whose board was established in June by the provincial government.

“Staff are confident that the proposed capital/one-time transition budget includes adequate funding to ensure the complete transition to Surrey Police Services inclusive of the required IT funding necessary to build out the IT infrastructure,” the proposed 2021 operating budget says.

Over the past two years the city had been operating off of assumptions made in the June 2019 Surrey Policing Transition Plan. The initial cost estimates included $7.5 million for a shared IT system with the RCMP’s network, via the federal agency Shared Services Canada (SCC).

Having the RCMP share its IT system with a municipal force has never been done before, according to the federal police agency.

The city’s transition manager, Terry Waterhouse, declined Glacier Media’s specific inquiry to clarify the larger cost estimate for the municipality building its own network – the difference of which aligns with the added costs in the new budget.

The original transition plan estimated building a new municipal IT system would cost up to $27 million to fully replace the RCMP one — a difference of $19.5 million as compared to the shared IT system.

The original transition plan states the $27 million is a “top end” estimate for a new municipal IT system, and phasing in replacement of IT infrastructure over additional years can save money. The city is now planning to budget about $5 million in each of the three years following 2021, when the transition should have been completed, according to the original plan ($10 million is budgeted past the next scheduled election in October 2022).

The city had originally factored in a $6 million contingency, as well, which is not clearly stated in the proposed 2021 budget, so it is unclear how much of the contingency remains.

It also remains unclear whether this additional cost will be the last taxpayers will see. Glacier Media has previously reported an IT expert estimating a new municipal IT system could be as much as $37 million to $40 million. For instance, the pressure to mandate wearing of body cameras by police officers will push up costs in IT departments. As well, 5G-capable IT systems will need to match the first rollout of 5G phones and networks by major telecoms to private consumers – including criminals – in major cities.

Digital intelligence company Cellebrite notes on its blog, “Law enforcement will need to become prepared for the new wave of 5G mobile devices that will increase the complexity of technological environments, locally and globally.”

In addition to the added costs, no officers will be added to the Surrey RCMP force in 2021. Superintendent Brian Edwards has not responded to Glacier Media for comment, but he has previously expressed concerns about not having more officers this year. If no officers are added to Surrey’s force in 2021, it will be three years in a row that the city has not increased its police presence. Meanwhile, during this time, the city has added an estimated 50,000 residents.

The city’s proposed 2021 budget shows a reduction in the anticipated/estimated operating budget for the SPS in future years. Whereas last year the city penciled in $217 million for police in 2024, this year’s plan shows only $205 million for the same year.

“Future police member resource needs will be determined by the SPS for approval by the Surrey Police Board. The development of future financial plan processes will include the provisional budget presented to Council by the Police Board for review and approval,” states the document.

The proposed budget does indicate some operational costs transitioning in 2021, when the city spends $62 million for the new municipal force and reduces its RCMP expenses by $45 million.

The original transition plan called for a SPS chief constable to be hired between July and September 2019; however, this has yet to happen. The new board has not announced a new chief, following a headhunt over the summer. The board will meet Friday to discuss budget matters.

The transition from the Surrey RCMP to a municipal force will be the largest police force transition in Canadian history. Surrey is the only major city in Canada that is still served by the RCMP.

Although crime rates have dropped in Surrey over the past decade, McCallum ran a 2018 election campaign promising reform of the service, citing the need for a more local corps of officers, particularly for the socially complex, multicultural city.

McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition social media account often shares news articles that are critical of the RCMP, which, as an agency, is facing scrutiny over alleged systemic racial discrimination, as well as gender discrimination already proven in federal court.

However, costs and transparency have dampened the transition, with some on council expressing that the public has been shut out of the process.

Costs has “been a fundamental question everyone’s been asking since day one,” said Coun. Jack Hundial, who left McCallum’s coalition in 2019 over the police transition.

“It’s difficult to take a position on something yet to be defined,” said Hundial, a former RCMP officer, who initially voted for the transition in November 2018.

Hundial said the added costs that appear to be directed toward a new municipal IT system “is one of many [misguided] assumptions that has turned out to be true.”

The city is also proposing a 2.9% property tax hike and an added $200 levy per household in 2021.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca
 

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