Surrey Police Service Chief Constable Norm Lipinski says he’s looking forward to a year of growth for the force in 2024 as his three-year anniversary on the job on Dec. 14 approaches.
He was hired on as SPS’s sole employee when it was four months old, supported by the Surrey Police Board and a small start up team comprised of City of Surrey staff.
The SPS now has 394 employees and one dog – Ragnar, an Occupational Stress Injury dog – and roughly 200 police officers serving and protecting Surrey residents every day alongside the Surrey RCMP, which it aims to replace. “That is very, gratifying to me.”
Still, he’s alive to the collective trauma related to this contentious transition process, now in its fifth year. “As we know, you just have to keep pressing forward and with a little bit of luck you make those changes and you progress,” he told the Now-Leader on Dec. 6.
When will Lipinski take over command from Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, Surrey RCMP’s officer in charge – when the SPS reaches the tipping point of more than 50 per cent of Surrey’s police officers?
“Well, that’s one indicator,” Lipinski started. “When exactly is the POJ (police of jurisdiction takeover) going to be depends on more than just the number of police officers, that’s a huge indicator of course, but it also depends where these people are, it depends what legal instruments have been put in place, it also depends on asset transfer which is the cars, the radios, the equipment, so there are these legal things that have to come into play in order for us to be POJ.
“It’s a moving target. We’re focused on right now the budget, the number of police officers associated with the budget, and then next let it go through the council process but at the same time we work with the stakeholders and put the plan together collectively about what 2024 looks like.”
Surrey Police Board Administrator Mike Serr delivered a 2024 provisional budget to the City of Surrey on Nov. 30 for the Surrey Police Service as the fledgling force aims to replace the Surrey RCMP, a move that the majority on Surrey city council remains vehemently opposed to.
Mayor Brenda Locke told the Now-Leader on Dec. 6 that the City of Surrey is not yet prepared to weigh in on the submission. “We haven’t been briefed by staff, we only received the budget late Thursday (Nov. 30),” she explained. “Staff are still working through it.”
The recently retired Abbotsford police chief ran his first SPB meeting that same day, since Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth temporarily suspended the SPB – of which Mayor Brenda Locke was chairwoman – and put him in charge.
Reflected in the budget submission, Serr said at the time, is the underlying assumption that the SPS will hire an additional 180 sworn officers in 2024, which would Surrey’s blended police complement to over 50 per cent SPS by the end of that year.
Serr also noted Surrey’s current “blended” police consist of more than a quarter – roughly 200 SPS officers – working alongside the Mounties.
Meantime, Lipinksi explained, “We still have to go through the budget process, we still have to work with the stakeholders, with the RCMP, and they create the vacancies for 180, we have to work through that. But you’ve got to start somewhere and somebody’s got to put something on the table as a starting point, so that’s what we did. Much more road to travel that way.
“Wrapping this project up, let’s start from the macro. I get asked this a lot – when is it going to be done, because the citizens of Surrey want it done. If all goes well, in my mind’s eye, probably about two years. That’s to completion – that’s to completion,” Lipinski forecasts, repeating himself for emphasis. “We would be situated, we would be in a position to be POJ (police of jurisdiction) but that requires a lot of discussion of where it is and if you’ve got 50 per cent plus one employees, that’s only one factor.”
Those employees, he explained, have to be throughout all ranks. “You have to have really a framework in order to take over, so there is much more road to travel but number-wise, as one indicator, we’d have good numbers by the end of this year.
“Fair to say, we are leaning forward and moving towards completion of this transition.”
Over the past year the SPS deployed 70 officers into service, 37 recruits were graduated from the JIBC Police Academy, and its Community 1st Unit was launched, which a press release issued by the SPS on Dec. 6 states “works to build long-term relationships with Surrey communities, with a particular focus on groups that have a historic distrust of police.”
“Specifically of course we reach out to new Canadians, sometimes there’s a language barrier, sometimes we can overcome that,” Lipinski clarified. “But as you know, some of these people come from countries that may not have the same trust level of policing that Canadians enjoy all across Canada. So we try and build a bridge there.”
Besides being a veteran senior police officer, having served with four departments, Lipinski also has a law degree and an MBA is his “skill set basket,” which he said has served him well. When he first started this job, he knew he was shouldering a big challenge.
“Did I expect all the twists and turns? No I didn’t.”
He considers the SPS, however, to be a “resilient, focused entity and we continue to lean forward and we continue to accomplish things. What I learned is with a focused mindset and a very good team, with of course a common cause but more importantly the collective will, that you can accomplish very good things for the community.”
But does he have regrets? What keeps Norm Lipinski up at night?
“Well, of course I would have liked it to have been a bit smoother, but recognizing that there’s many stakeholders and people have different opinions, and people are resistant to the SPS – I acknowledge that – and I wish it wouldn’t have been that way, it would have been a lot easier and quicker, but we do need to move forward with the best interests of the community in mind because we can’t just go on and on with this transition given the cost and given the confusion in the public. It doesn’t serve the community at its best to do that.
“So yes, if I could change – it’s not that I can change, I have no control over it,” he chuckles, likely with exasperation, “but I would like to see this smooth out a little bit and I’m hopeful we can do that in the near future, and we’d be moving ahead and be farther ahead if it was a bit smoother.”