A new review of policing in B.C. ordered by the province may prod Metro Vancouver’s patchwork of police forces to work together in new ways but observers don’t expect a switch to a full regional police force.
A regional force was one of the top recommendations handed down nearly a year ago by the Missing Women Inquiry, which probed how serial killer Robert Pickton eluded capture for so long.
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the multi-phase review by government will look at new service delivery models.
“Any change, whether it is regional delivery of specialized policing functions or further integration, has to meet the needs of both communities and taxpayers, and our goal is to retain and support community-based policing,” Anton said in a statement.
She said the reivew will also draw up funding options to finance police costs after work to better define the responsibilities of various levels of government.
Several mayors, including Delta’s Lois Jackson, remain firmly against regional policing on the grounds they may lose community policing control and the ability to deliver no-call-too-small service to their residents.
The two-year review is to be done by the ministry in close consultation with local cities and with some assistance from the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.
SFU criminologist Rob Gordon said it doesn’t look independent enough to come up with the right solution, even if it’s one that upsets some cities and police forces.
“It’s going to be a self-serving apology for the status quo,” Gordon predicted. “Police chiefs and mayors all have a great deal at stake. It could very well be a waste of time and money.”
Gordon said a separate study is expected to report back soon on the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT), which is one of the regional integrated police teams that doesn’t have full municipal cooperation.
Vancouver, Delta and West Vancouver all run their own homicide squads rather than participate in IHIT, out of concerns over both costs and control.
Gordon said he fears the IHIT report will result in more “bandaiding” of the existing structure, instead of taking a needed step back to look at how to redesign the entire “totally inefficient” policing system in Metro Vancouver as well as Greater Victoria.
According to a provincial report, there has been improved cooperation between police forces over the years through greater use of integrated police teams and several police-related reforms are being taken in response to Justice Wally Oppal’s inquiry.
Those include audits to ensure bias-free policing, the development of a Real Time Intelligence Centre that can better analyze crime data around the clock, and a separate review of how vulnerable witnesses are handled.
Most of Oppal’s 65 recommendations haven’t led to provincial action, or are counted as still in progress.
RCMP costs a major concern for cities
The rising costs of RCMP service remain a big issue for Metro cities.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said his city is still considering pulling out of the RCMP and launching its own municipal force. Richmond would contract with a neighouring city for specialized services, such as murder investigations.
“Our assumption has been that there was so much opposition to a regional model that it probably wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “Whether that now changes, we have to wait and see.”
Burnaby, Port Coquitlam and North Vancouver have also studied potential alternatives to the RCMP over the past 18 months, since a controversial new 20-year RCMP contract kicked in with higher officer costs.
Brodie said one “huge issue” is the costs cities are being expected to pay to cover the newly opened $1-billion RCMP ‘E’ Division headquarters at Green Timbers in Surrey.
RCMP-policed cities have been told to budget $1,200 for each officer in their detachment, he said, and $20,000 for every local officer who serves on an integrated team.
Brodie said it adds up to a sudden jump of several hundred thousand dollars in annual RCMP costs for larger cities like Richmond, Burnaby and Surrey.
“When you’ve got 20 members on an integrated team, that’s a lot of money.”
The mayors also want to know why they have to pay anything for the new base in Surrey when Ottawa apparently isn’t yet moving to sell off the old ‘E’ Division headquarters on Heather Street in Vancouver.
“The federal government decides that they need a huge massive new building in Surrey, which we didn’t ask for,” Brodie said. “We take the position we’re not paying for the capital costs.”