Dermod Travis: Time to bite bullet on regional police force for Metro Vancouver

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      The headlines are becoming a little too common for Lower Mainland residents: “Police probe homicide after man’s body found in vehicle parked in Surrey”; “City shocked by Julie Paskall’s ‘random’ murder”; “Prominent B.C. gang leader killed in targeted attack”; “Surrey man charged with killing three people”.

      With the headlines come news reports that are often accompanied by a media ritual so predictable that most of the players likely know it by rote.

      A local politician—frequently Surrey mayor Dianne Watts—will step in front of the cameras to express sympathy, a professor will proffer a few academic perspectives on crime, the police will state for the record that they’re treating the death as “suspicious”, and someone who knew the victim will shake their head in despair that their friend, neighbour, or classmate is gone forever.

      And then everyone pretty well goes back to whatever they were doing before. Forgive the cynicism, but not good enough.

      In response to what many see as a skyrocketing crime rate in Surrey, a number of observers have taken to comparing the relative strength of West Vancouver’s police force with that of Surrey’s, as a way to show that B.C.’s fastest growing city is getting shortchanged when it comes to policing.

      The numbers speak for themselves: on one side of the Lions Gate Bridge there was the equivalent of 168 police officers for every 100,000 people in 2012, and on the other side of the Pattullo bridge that ratio was 137 officers. One would think that West Vancouver is at the epicentre of a crime wave in the Lower Mainland. Far from it.

      In 2004, Statistics Canada developed a statistic that would not just measure the volume of crime, but also the seriousness of the offences. They created the Crime Severity Index. Think of it as the consumer price index for crime.

      In 2012, West Vancouver’s crime severity index was 40.1. In Surrey, it was more than three times as high at 129.9.

      But it’s easy to be misled by one-off illustrations such as comparing policing levels in West Vancouver with those of Surrey.

      So why stop there? Why not look at how Metro Vancouver stacks up against Montreal and Toronto?

      The four largest cities in Metro Vancouver—Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby, and Vancouver—have a combined population of 1.55 million. Put their police forces together and there are 161 police officers for every 100,000 citizens. On the other hand, Toronto has a force that numbers 203 officers for every 100,000 residents and Montreal has 223 officers for every 100,000 residents.

      If Metro Vancouver has fewer cops, it should only follow that taxpayers are paying far less than their counterparts in Ontario and Quebec when it comes to policing. Bzz, wrong.

      According to a Statistics Canada report, Police Resources in Canada, British Columbia spent $310 per capita on policing in 2011, smack in the middle of what Quebec ($297) and Ontario ($320) spent. The crime severity index between the three provinces is also telling: Quebec’s index stood at 73.5, Ontario’s at 61.1, and B.C.’s at 95.1.

      So if British Columbians pay the same bucks as Ontario and Quebec for policing, has fewer cops and a higher crime severity index, what gives?

      This may partially explain it: one in eight Canadians live in British Columbia, yet nearly seven of every 10 RCMP officers working the municipal beat in Canada are stationed in B.C.

      Why have most provinces moved away from the RCMP for local policing? Because they’re pricey. Just this month, two communities in New Brunswick voted to end their contracts with the RCMP and establish local police departments to cut costs.

      And with various RCMP detachments, local police departments, and transit police all operating in Metro Vancouver there are simply too many police forces and not enough police officers.

      Wally Oppal was right. After all the hemming and hawing the issue has generated, it’s time for the communities that make up Metro Vancouver to establish a single regional police force, as he recommended in the final report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

      Who knows, maybe it will mean less of those media rituals playing out in the future.

      Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.


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      Jan 29, 2014 at 11:20am

      Police are funded with municipal taxes. Surrey residents and businesses clearly aren't paying enough for policing, so they must like things the way they are. Taxes are very high in West Vancouver and so are services, including policing. Different cities, different priorities.
      All North shore cities subsidize Surrey enough already. Surrey has problems. One of them is low taxes. Address that first.


      Jan 29, 2014 at 1:30pm

      Regional always sounds good, but that's mostly based on the myth that separate police agencies don't work together. That myth has been frequently dispelled by experts, but hey - our society works on the basis of popular myth.

      As for the comment by "Taxpayer", well, what can you say. In reality, the quaint municipalities of the North Shore can't subsidize anything. On the contrary. The vast population south of the inlet spends far too many dollars funding services that the seniors and low income people of the north shore (90% of the population) rely upon daily.

      It will be fun to see their reaction when we finally start tolling their bridges. Gasp! How dare we!!

      (Because we can, folks.)

      Stop the Madness

      Jan 29, 2014 at 1:38pm

      Actually lets move farther than this and amalgamate the entire area. Then we might really have a cohesive Police Force, Transit plan and Civic leadership. This hodge-podge of different local governments costs taxpayers money and hinders everything from growth to policing.

      Alan Layton

      Jan 29, 2014 at 2:10pm

      According to Charlie Smith, Vancouver has too many police already and he would like them to be cut back.

      Good article by the way.


      Jan 29, 2014 at 2:17pm

      @ "Stop the Madness -- Ask Toronto about amalgamation. Except for the few who gained, it's widely viewed as a disaster. In fact, many groups and individuals are working to dismantle that GTA elephant. It hasn't worked.


      Jan 29, 2014 at 2:27pm

      Yo DavidH?
      "That myth has been frequently dispelled by experts, but hey - our society works on the basis of popular myth."
      Oppal isn't an expert?

      Three barriers to effective investigation of individual missing women can
      be attributed to inter-jurisdictional issues.
      First, some reportees found
      it difficult to make a report because it was unclear which police agency
      they should go to.
      Second, there was reluctance or hesitancy to take
      over the investigations because it was difficult to determine in some of
      the missing women investigations where they were last seen because no
      one had observed them going missing.
      Third, in some cases there was no
      meaningful investigation undertaken because one police force deferred to
      the other or thought the other was taking the lead.
      I conclude that the absence of a consistent policy and practice for dealing
      with the transfer of missing person files from one jurisdiction to another
      compounded the other delays and gaps in the investigation of a number of
      the missing women investigation. p.53-54
      Executive Summary from
      Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry
      by Wally Oppal
      No DavidH the basis of popular myth is the LACK OF EDUCATION and simply relying on insane comments on the internet.

      Stop The Madness

      Jan 29, 2014 at 2:59pm

      @ David H.
      Wow, because Toronto couldn't do it right we should think that no one can.
      Really the place that has Rob Ford as it's mayor is the shining example you
      use of a functional amalgamated large city?


      Jan 29, 2014 at 3:13pm

      Crime stats are useful but not foolproof in that raw data can be manipulated to create illusory rate spikes (for more funding) or drops (for political advantage) by reclassifying the activities and, in extreme cases, simply not counting correctly.

      Assuming that these quoted stats are correct, what is the point? Do they actually show (as the article indicates) that having a greater density of police will result in better crime outcomes?

      Or might they also point out that living in West Van, a stable, know-your-neighbour community full of people who can afford gates and state of the art monitoring systems offers a better crime outcome than life in a Surrey, a relatively poor, transient population where lots of people come from places that don't speak English well and/or mistrust the police in their countries of previous nationality?

      This seems kinda basic so I don't know about the rest of the author's conclusions.

      I'm not against the idea of a regional police. There are common-sense efficiencies of scale from amalgamating HR, training facilities, warehouses and whatnot.

      But the most important thing, it seems to me, is having a force that can actually get the intel on the ground. If you just increase the force, put the cops in black tac gear, give them dogs, give them helmets, then you make the area quiet in the way that a prison is quiet, but that's the expensive and tension-producing way to go.

      OTOH if you have police who walk street beats, know the locals by name, earn a rep as good guys and girls, speak the languages, that should lead to better genuine cooperation from the locals.

      A lot also depends on the prosecution side too. If prosecutions are neglected and/or ineffective, what is the point of reporting crime?


      Jan 29, 2014 at 3:39pm

      @ Stop the Madness -- Try reading my comment. Toronto isn't a "shining example" of a functional amalgamated city. It is the opposite, and not because of Rob Ford. It has never worked and will never work. It is an artificial construct.

      As for whether or not amalgamated regions CAN work - let's see your examples of ones that have worked. Name and explain.

      @HellSlayerAndy -- No, Wally Oppal isn't an expert. He's an elderly judge, and a failed BC Liberal. He means well, but he doesn't know anything. As for the origins of popular myth, look to your nearest friend or neighbour, who is likely stupid and naive.

      gilbert marks

      Jan 30, 2014 at 7:54am

      The RCMP is charged with following Harper's mandate. Priority is busting drug users, marijuana smokers, small grow ops, and drinkers on Wreck beach What little remains is devoted to everything else.

      Give the Queen's Cowboys the boot, retarget new police resources, and assign nothing to drug enforcement except where participants create a large nuisance.