Some Metro Vancouver mayors say they’d welcome reform of regional police services but few are endorsing the idea of fully switching to a regional force from the current patchwork of municipal police and RCMP detachments.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement supporting Missing Women Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal’s call Monday for a regional force, saying it’s “crucial” to improving public safety and policing in the region.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, however, wants to improve the current system of integrated policing units that pool resources across the region, adding that could go as far as a regional services force, but not at the expense of independent local control.
“If you solely go to a regional force, what happens is all the police are pulled out of a variety of communities to deal with an issue,” Watts said. “You’re leaving your community very scantily policed.”
The problem now, she said, is that some cities opt out of the integrated units – Vancouver and some other municipal forces don’t participate in the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) and instead pool efforts with the VPD’s homicide squad.
“We need to have an overriding structure and everybody has to participate,” Watts said. “It’s not about what uniform somebody wears. It’s a matter of the model.”
Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay, whose municipal force works closely with the VPD, said he’s happy with that arrangement, but would also support a bolstered system of integrated teams, while leaving local forces or detachments in charge of local community policing.
One challenge is that some cities willingly charge higher taxes than others to deliver no-call-too-small policing and mayors like Clay wonder if their cities, with a high rate of police per capita, would lose boots on the ground under a regional model.
“If Port Moody becomes part of a larger Metro Vancouver regional police force, are we getting the same amount of attention we’re getting now?” he asked.
Clay added he could see an amalgamated regional force if local precincts were created to preserve service levels and local autonomy – a scenario Oppal advances in his report.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson opposes regional policing, saying it would disconnect officers from local citizens.
“I just do not believe regional policing with a great faceless group of people from all over the Lower Mainland will do our cities in good stead,” Jackson said.
SFU criminologist Rob Gordon, a longtime reform advocate, dismissed concerns of mayors, saying the concept is “not rocket science” and is done in many major cities.
He said tinkering with the integrated units is not what Oppal intends.
“The people of Metro Vancouver in particular are not being policed well,” Gordon said. “They’re not being served by this balkanized system we have.”
Oppal’s report found serial killer Robert Pickton would likely have been caught sooner had a regional force been in place, avoiding some of the poor coordination between the VPD and RCMP in Port Coquitlam and the ensuing finger-pointing at the inquiry.
He recommended the province name an independent panel of experts to begin fleshing out a proposed model for implementation.
B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond committed only to talk about the idea but gave no sign the province would force through reform over municipal objections.
NDP justice critic Leonard Krog was also cautious, saying there would have to be a “very careful” look at whether a new model would improve policing – as opposed to more work to improve training and coordination – and whether cities could unite behind it.
“This isn’t like who picks up your garbage,” Krog said. “You don’t want to impose fundamental changes around policing without some pretty broad support.”
Strong opposition from cities could be a deal-breaker, he added.
Krog said Robertson’s endorsement creates an opportunity to consider reform.
But he added the new long-term RCMP contract may be a barrier or add to the cost of change, even though there’s an opt-out mechanism.
Oppal’s call is just the latest. He wrote a report recommending regional policing back in 1994 and a VPD review of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot also concluded a regional police force would have handled it better.
Municipal forces police Vancouver, West Vancouver, Port Moody, New Westminster, Delta and Abbotsford, while all other municipalities in the region are served by RCMP detachments.
But some cities – Richmond, Burnaby and North Vancouver City and District – are studying their options to leave the RCMP due to their concerns over the new contract.
Gordon said he has “virtually no faith” that the current government – or the NDP if they take power after the spring election – will do anything but “dawdle” with Oppal’s regional force recommendation.
“I wonder what the attitude of Shirley Bond would be if the women all came from the west side of Vancouver. How much more quickly would the government have moved on this?”
OPPAL ON REGIONAL POLICING
Some of findings from the report of Missing Women Commissioner Wally Oppal on regional policing:
– Only a regional force can provide leadership and set regional policing priorities.
– Without a unified command structure, accountability suffers. “There are many people in charge, and when there are many people in charge, no one is in charge.”
– Criminals can exploit police jurisdictions with fewer resources or less sophisticated systems.
– Further integration of police in the Lower Mainland would merely “prop up a broken system.”
– While there’s much cooperation between existing forces there’s also “considerable rivalry” between the VPD and RCMP.
– With regionalization comes a single procedure and central command to respond to planned celebrations, riots, natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
– A larger scale Metro force can better deliver specialized services and should achieve savings through bulk buying, reduced administrative overhead and eliminating duplicate jobs.
– Options include a provincial police service, separate regional police forces, or a combination of provincial and regional policing.