Policing in flux across B.C., as political pledges prove complex to implement

When Novi Jette quit her job at the Vancouver Police Department to join the new Surrey Police Department, she knew she was taking a risk, but felt like she had done her homework.

Jett is stepping down after 23 years to take on a new role in Surrey, where she said she looks forward to building a new police force from the ground up as head of employee services.

However, the future of the force has been called into question, with a new majority in the city council pledging to halt the replacement of the RCMP – which Jeter said could also mean the end of her policing.

This is an example of how the political commitment to hiring and rehiring officers across police departments may not be as simple as a simple staffing adjustment.

“I’d be very, very disappointed if things were reversed,” Jeter said.

“For me, coming back to Vancouver wasn’t — personally, it wasn’t an option,” she said. “If it doesn’t pass, it will be my end.”

The transformation of the police department was a shared commitment to B.C. municipal elections last month, as public violence and prolific crime sparked calls for stronger law enforcement.

On Vancouver Island, Esquimalt re-elected Mayor Barb Desjardins after the city council voted to withdraw from a costly deal with Victoria to share the police department. In Vancouver, voters backed Ken Sim after his party, ABC Vancouver, promised to hire 100 new officials for the city. Surrey’s new mayor, Brenda Locke, reiterated her pledge to replace the RCMP in her inaugural speech on Monday.

“The uncertainty around policing in Surrey will end,” Locke said.

One of the council’s top priorities is to release a report outlining plans to keep the RCMP in Surrey, which Locke said would be cheaper than the council force. Locke declined to be interviewed, but told the Vancouver Sun that she wants city officials to serve as Mounties.

However, on Thursday, the Surrey Police Union issued a statement saying 275 of the force’s 293 frontline officers had signed a pledge stating they had no intention of joining the RCMP if the municipal force ceased to exist.

Moving to other municipal forces could also be complicated, Surrey Police spokesman Ian Macdonald said in an interview last month.

For example, the Vancouver Police Department told The Canadian Press that they don’t hire by rank, only at the constable level. That makes it difficult for officers who have earned higher ranks elsewhere to return, MacDonald said.

“You may come back with a lower salary, at a lower level, and you may be performing functions that are not part of your area of ​​expertise,” MacDonald said.

Training is also a consideration, he said. For example, while the RCMP has a program to recognize the expertise of police officers who have worked in another department for at least two years, recruits who have spent a year at the BC Judicial Academy must start over at the RCMP’s police station teacher training process, he said.

“Surrey citizens have just paid a lot of money and trained officers who were supposed to be in Surrey, and you’ve just subsidised training for other council departments,” MacDonald said.

As of October 15, the police station has a total of 296 officers, of which 154 are deployed on the front lines. Another 28 recruits are undergoing training and 57 civilians are serving.

The 296 included officers recruited from 26 different police agencies across Canada, 105 of whom were former Mounties.

While cost estimates for retaining the RCMP and canceling the transition were projected in a staff report that has not yet been released in Surrey, MacDonald estimates that approximately $93.6 million has been spent on sunk costs such as salaries, operating and business expenses, equipment and IT platform. Not compatible with RCMP infrastructure.

Severance packages for current employees were about $66.1 million, and the cost of ending the transition now is $159.7 million, he said.

RCMP communications director Dawn Roberts said she could not answer specific questions about how many Mounties the detachment has lost since the transition began, how easy it would be to return staffing to standard levels and what the cost would be .

Operations remain “status quo” until the city or province takes action to halt the transition, she said. However, she added that the RCMP remains willing to move forward with any staffing or recruitment process deemed necessary.

“As part of the first phase of the transition, police have done a lot of work under the command of the RCMP and have created a number of processes and procedures that can be leveraged,” she said.

The Experienced Policing program, which allows officers with at least two years of experience in other police departments to swap their blue serge for a red one, will also welcome former Surrey Police officers, she said.

“We respect and value the contributions of our SPS colleagues to policing and certainly welcome them to the RCMP,” she said.

She added that the RCMP fully respects the decision by the city, province and federal government as to which police force has jurisdiction over Surrey.

Other municipal forces are also eyeing Surrey’s transition.

Sgt. Cindy Vance of the Vancouver Police Department said ABC Vancouver’s goal of hiring 100 officers is an ambitious target due to a general staff shortage, but the department believes, with the support of the city council, it is feasible.

“It won’t be easy, but I’m certainly optimistic that we can make it happen,” she said.

While she said Vancouver only recruits at the constable level, she said the department is looking for experienced officers and has a program to recognize external credentials. Typically, she said, it doesn’t involve full retraining, but rather targeted instruction where they use a different firearm.

Recruiters for the area’s police department are “on the same team,” she said. However, if the Vancouver Police Department knows of an officer or former officer from another police department who is interested in coming to Vancouver, recruiters don’t hesitate to contact them, she said.

“I’m not trying to, you know, steal anyone from another agency. But if I think someone is interested or looking for an opportunity we offer that other agency doesn’t offer, we don’t hesitate to let them know we’re hiring ,” Vance said.

She added that the future of the Surrey officer remained to be seen. She has spoken to some people who are interested in transitioning to Vancouver, and others who are very happy with where they are.

“It’s a big unknown,” she said. “There are definitely more people talking about whether they want to stay there. If Vancouver is where they want to come or they want to come back, we’re definitely going to talk to them.”

As the experiences of Jeter and other individual police officers have shown, making decisions to change police departments is not easy.

Jeter, who left the Vancouver Police Department and is an officer and now an inspector, said she didn’t leave Vancouver because she wasn’t happy there.

“I had a great career in Vancouver and I really enjoyed working for VPD, so it wasn’t an easy decision for me, but it was a leap of faith,” Jette said.

“I know this opportunity will never arise again, where I will be able to be part of an organization built from the ground up in the community where I live.”

Sgt. Harry Grewal relocated his family from Edmonton eight months ago. His extended family in British Columbia had been urging him to move there for years, and after 33 years with the Edmonton Police Service, the timing seemed right.

Grewal said he came to Surrey to provide a service, not to comment or participate in political decision-making. If the police transition is removed, he said he will cross the bridge when he gets there.

“It’s going to be a very difficult problem to deal with. We have to sit down as a family again,” he said.

Kaleigh Paddon, a former mounted constable who joined Surrey Police from Joint Forces Special Forces, said she liked her new role as sergeant, but the decision to leave her previous job was not an easy one.

“I don’t think any of us took it lightly,” she said.

She, Jette and Grewal said they would remain focused on their responsibilities as council explores the future of policing in Surrey.

“We worry about what we can control, and what I can control right now is taking care of our members,” Paden said.

—Amy Smart, Vancouver

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