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Norm Lipinski, Surrey Police Service's first chief constable and the current Delta Deputy Police Chief, is photographed outside the Delta Police Department in Delta, British Columbia, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak

Surrey’s decision to reallocate tens of millions of dollars from its RCMP budget to facilitate the creation of a new municipal force has prompted B.C.’s Solicitor-General Ministry to say it will ensure policing levels in the city are not compromised.

City council narrowly approved a 2021 operating budget this week with one of the highest amounts ever committed to policing, at $184-million, up from $167-million in 2019.

But the RCMP, which normally receives most of the money council allocates to policing to pay for its 843 officers, will get 25 per cent less for those officers – an estimated $37-million out of its existing contract with Surrey. The money is instead being redirected to the new force.

The Surrey Police Service has yet to hire a single person other than a chief or come up with a schedule or targets for any further hiring.

“The province is aware that the City of Surrey has provided its budgetary letter of approval in principle to the RCMP, which does signal a reduction for the upcoming fiscal year,” according to an e-mail from the ministry’s communications staff in response to Globe and Mail questions about whether the reduction is a concern.

“In order to reduce its budget, there are processes that must be followed under the city’s Municipal Police Unit Agreement (MPUA) – the agreement between the city and the province to contract the RCMP. The province is engaged to ensure this process is followed and further that we are satisfied that any requested reduction will not compromise adequate levels of policing.”

The ministry has been in touch with the city “to ensure it adheres to its requirements” under its policing agreement, communications staff said later.

Mayor Doug McCallum did not respond to a request to comment on the ministry’s statement.

But the executive director of the new police service said there is no danger that policing levels in Surrey will fall to unacceptable levels under any conditions.

“The specifics you are asking for as far as timelines are yet to be determined, but what is a guarantee is that the RCMP will have the funding it requires to deliver policing services in Surrey until such time as the Surrey Police Service is able to put police officers on the street,” Melissa Granum said in an e-mail. She said timing, target dates for hiring and other issues will be worked out once police chief Norm Lepinski starts his job in mid-December.

According to a June, 2019, transition plan done for Surrey by Vancouver police, most of the hiring of new officers for 2021 was supposed to have been completed by the end of 2020 for an April 1 launch of the new service. City staff are now pushing the target date for the launch to the end of 2022.

The city’s 2021 budget provided an additional $23-million, on top of the operating money for the new service, for one-time capital and startup costs.

But some of the critics of Surrey’s police transition, which include four city councillors, the Surrey Board of Trade and dozens of residents, have noted that new service is facing potentially huge initial costs, far beyond the $23-million.

That is especially true, they say, after Shared Services Canada announced in early December that it would not allow the new service to take over the RCMP computer system. It’s been estimated that a new system could cost up to $40-million.

“That [$23-million] just won’t be enough,” said Councillor Jack Hundial, a former RCMP officer. He says he is increasingly alarmed at the confusion in the city about how the current policing level will be maintained.

Ultimately, he believes the province will step in to ensure there is at least a constant number of experienced officers providing service.

That could mean money being reallocated back to the Surrey RCMP from the existing budget, raising taxes, or borrowing more to cover the extra costs of keeping on all the existing officers while ramping up the new services.

“They’re going to have to come up with those funds somehow. But it’s such a flawed plan and process that you can’t make any predictions,” Mr. Hundial said.

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