The city is relying on its ability to hire hundreds of experienced officers before a proposed new police force launches in April 2021.
The highly competitive police recruiting environment in Canada could make it difficult for Surrey to fill the ranks of its proposed municipal police force over the next two years, a policing expert says.
“It’s going to be a massive challenge. Policing in Canada, from what I have seen, the pool of interested candidates continues to get smaller,” said Sgt. Brian Sauvé, a B.C. RCMP officer who is currently on leave to help establish the National Police Federation. “Everybody’s chasing after that pool of eligible candidates.”
The new police force, which the city proposes to have up and running by April 21, 2021, will have 805 officers, which is close to what the city has now under the RCMP.
Although not all officers are expected to be hired by the transition date — the plan is to have 461 sworn officers, with another 344 officers to be phased in over the following three months — a transition report recognizes that hiring so many officers within a relatively short period of time will be “a significant undertaking.”
Surrey’s plan relies on the assumption that the majority of the officers it hires initially will be experienced, which could mean RCMP members or municipal officers of various ranks and seniority levels.
“For a new organization, the skills of these members will be paramount not only in establishing specialty sections, but also for providing a strong operational base upon which the reputation of the Surrey PD will be built,” the report states.
The multi-step application process for a municipal force can take anywhere from several weeks to 18 months, depending on a number of factors.
“There’s so many variables,” said Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Jason Robillard.
A new recruit must then go to the Justice Institute of B.C. for nine months of training. Experienced officers can take significantly less time to be job ready if they pass an exam exempting them from going through the police academy.
The report suggests that in order to make the department more attractive for exempt applicants, the city could expedite the application process, make RCMP pensions portable to a single pension plan, and offer to hire officers who hold a rank above constable at their existing rank or above. For Surrey RCMP members only, it could offer an extra 40 hours of leave.
Sauvé said on a local or provincial level it could be difficult to recruit police officers, but if Surrey casts its net nationally, which it plans to do, it may find enough applicants to fill its vacancies.
However, he said, the issue then becomes training — whether it’s the need to create more spaces at the Justice Institute, or finding locations for firearms and use-of-force training.
“There’s a lot of detail that isn’t spoken to in that report, but I think there’s a lot of challenges,” Sauvé said. “If the residents of Surrey really want to go this route, perhaps a five- to 10-year transition is wiser than 24 months transition.”
The mayor and those who drafted the city’s policing transition plan, on the other hand, are optimistic about Surrey’s prospects.
“I don’t think Surrey Police Department is going to have any difficulty filling its ranks with officers,” said Curt Griffiths, a Simon Fraser University criminology professor who consulted on the plan, told Postmedia “My guess is they’ll be oversubscribed.”
Although no one has formally surveyed Surrey RCMP members, Mayor Doug McCallum believes a large percentage of those officers will apply to the Surrey PD.
“Every day I get stopped in the street, tapped on the shoulder by RCMP officers in Surrey that say, ‘When can we join?’” McCallum said last week.
Sauvé said he hasn’t personally heard of members who are interested in moving over, but based on what happened when Transit Police started up, RCMP officers who qualify for their pension could retire from the federal force and go municipal so they can double dip. For those who have more than two years of experience and haven’t been members long enough to collect their pension, it could be a harder sell.
Surrey is now waiting on Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to decide whether Surrey can go ahead with its plan. Farnworth has not said when that will happen, other than to stipulate it won’t happen in the next few weeks.
If the plan is approved, the expectation is that the recruiting and training section will be staffed by the end of this year and begin accepting applications in January 2020.