Coquitlam mayor makes case for RCMP over city police force

Stewart says he ‘won’t get into debate’ on Surrey’s plan to convert, but essentially does

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart indicates he would not presume to school Surrey on whether it should convert to a city police force, “as that decision is entirely up to their residents.

“But here in Coquitlam, I’d recommend against it,” he writes in a lengthy essay on the topic.

Coquitlam is an RCMP city, and converting to its own force, Stewart maintains, would see its annual policing costs increase by as much as 34 per cent.

“And then there are the transitional costs – not just the new uniforms and equipment, etcetera. There is typically an expectation that a community moving between police forces would incur about a one-year’s budget in transition costs (for Coquitlam, something like $30 million) as we’d have to run two police forces for a year. And we can expect a large number of complications, training expenses etcetera that are hard to predict.”

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who campaigned on swapping out the RCMP for a city force here, could not be reached for comment.

READ ALSO: Surrey mayor insists public was consulted on policing – during election campaign

At council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, it served notice to the provincial and federal governments that Surrey is ending its contract with the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up its own force.

Meantime, McCallum told the Now-Leader last week that the transition plan is “on track” to be finished and sent to the provincial government by the end of April for consideration. Once that’s been done, McCallum said, he intends to release the document to the public but also said some “operational techniques” may be kept private.

Stewart, meantime, notes there are four “main reasons” why municipal police forces are “typically significantly more expensive” than the RCMP: Wage level, force size, shared service, and the latter come with some federal subsidy.

While it’s a “oft-repeated suggestion” the mayor would have more control over a municipal police force, Stewart notes, it’s wrong – “Completely wrong.”

“Under the Police Act, elected officials have control over the policing budget, same as an other civic service,” Stewart writes. “But mayor and council don’t direct police services, whether you have a contract with the RCMP or you have a municipal police force.”

Municipal police wages are “substantially higher than RCMP wages,” Stewart writes, “cop-to-pop” ratios for municipal forces is “significantly higher” than for the RCMP, and the federal government funds RCMP senior management positions, “whereas with municipal forces their top brass are paid by the city.”

READ ALSO OUR VIEW: Surrey deserves policing details

And then there’s information management and information technology, both “large parts of policing, and setting up such systems from scratch contains enormous cost risks.”

Not to mention the matter of indemnification.

“One of the issues that can be significant is that the federal government indemnifies municipalities that use the RCMP from claims and compensation settlements, as well as legal services,” the Coquitlam mayor notes. “Policing is a high-risk service – from crashes to police dog bites – and the risk for RCMP communities is covered by the federal government.”

Stewart also cites a 2016 report published by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General that in terms of cop-to-population ratio, caseload and total budget, the RCMP rated “more efficient and significantly more cost-effective than municipal police departments.”

The 2016 average cost per capita of RCMP forces was $247 compared to $385 for municipal forces, Stewart notes. That’s 56 per cent more.

– with file by Amy Reid.



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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