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Safe Communities and Strong Economies - Supporting Policing in B.C.

B.C.’s police forces are on patrol, investigating crimes, enforcing the law, and keeping the peace. Effective and adequately resourced policing is integral to safe economies and strong economies. As B.C.’s urban centres grow and municipalities increasingly become inter-dependent, the importance of regional policing increases. Yet municipal police forces and RCMP detachments have different levels of funding, manage their cases differently, and may not have the resources for specialized training. In the regions with multiple police forces, funding, governance, and operations can vary widely. From a practical perspective, dividing police resources along municipal borders, especially ones that are adjacent, makes little or no sense.

Background

At the present time, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and 11 independent municipal police organizations provide service across B.C. For example, Greater Victoria has four independent municipal police forces and three RCMP detachments serving a population of 335,256.



Under the B.C. Police Act, municipalities with a population exceeding 5,000 must assume responsibility for police services within their boundaries. Such municipalities have three options:

1. contract with the provincial government for RCMP municipal police services,

2. contract with an existing independent municipal police department, or

3. form an independent municipal police department.

Independent municipal police departments are governed by a police board, a non-partisan body whose role is to provide governance, budgetary control, and policy direction.

The operations of the RCMP are governed by the RCMP Act and are subject to the contractual agreements between the various levels of government, e.g. Municipal Police Unit Agreement.

Funding

Taxpayers in municipalities with independent municipal police forces pay 100 percent of their local policing costs. Over 30 percent of municipal property taxes are typically allocated to support independent police forces, the largest single expenditure for local governments.

Municipal RCMP policing is partially funded by the provincial government and municipalities through property taxes. The portions are broken down into three different cost-sharing formulas:

1. Municipalities with populations exceeding 15,000 persons are responsible for 90 percent of the cost of their RCMP police services.

2. Municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 15,000 are responsible for 70 percent of the cost

3. Municipalities with populations under 5,000, pay less than 50 percent of the total cost for police services

The complexity of the current police funding model can be cumbersome. For example, the RCMP detachment serving the five municipalities in Greater Victoria’s western communities is funded by three different cost-sharing formulas, one for the two communities under 5,000, another for the two over 15,000, and yet another for the one that falls in between.

Operations

Each municipality can have its own distinct policing requirements. Victoria has the seat of government, is the daytime working centre and the region’s night-time playground. As such, the Victoria Police Department may have more officers on duty at bar closing on a Friday night or at the B.C. Legislature on Canada Day than any department or detachment in the region. Further, populations with chronic un- or under-treated mental health and addictions requires police officers – often the first responder when an individual is unstable or dangerous – to act as front line social workers.

Each municipality will have its own policing priorities, reflecting local issues, municipal resources, and local government policies. In Victoria, the municipality is regulating marijuana dispensaries, with its independent police force intervening upon a case-by-case bases. Meanwhile, neighbouring municipalities have emphatically said no to medical marijuana dispensaries.

The municipal disparities in law enforcement can have a great impact on the region as a whole, as crime tends to move towards areas of least resistance. If illegal activity triggers police enforcement in one municipality but not in another, then it only makes sense that type of illegal activity flourishes in the latter, potentially attracting similar and related illegal activities.

Integrated Units

Integrated units can provide a regional approach to law enforcement and crime prevention, e.g. Integrated Major Crime Unit, Integrated Road Safety Unit and the Mobile Youth Service Team. Not all municipalities are on each integrated team; their composition tends to be aligned with municipalities’ policing priorities. Such teams may create economies of scale, provide access to specialized equipment, training and personnel, as well as increase the effectiveness in addressing criminal activity affecting more than one community.

Integrated police units form and collapse over the years. From some individual municipalities’ perspective, it might seem worthwhile to withdraw from an integrated team when its specific policing priorities are not being met. Others might see their involvement in an integrated team as more of an “insurance policy,” i.e., access to specialized expertise and resources that it does not have to fund or retain on its own.

The ad hoc and temporary nature of integrated teams makes them an unreliable approach to regional policing.

THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS

That the Provincial Government ensure the provision of effective and adequately resourced police services in the Province of B.C. by creating a common governance and funding model to ensure effective, sustainable, equitable police services within and between B.C. communities.

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