Mayors weigh merits of a North Shore police force

West Vancouver’s mayor is open to the possibility of a regional police force

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      While a regional police force across Metro Vancouver doesn’t appear likely to come anytime soon, things are looking quite promising on the North Shore.

      Residents of the District of West Vancouver are happy with their local police. That said, their mayor is open to the idea of forming a single force with the municipality’s two North Vancouver neighbours, which are patrolled by the RCMP.

      The City of North Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver are waiting for the results of a study the two municipalities commissioned to set out options should they exit the 20-year contract they signed with the Mounties last summer.

      “Now, if they were to decide that they want to look at, for example, a North Shore or regional police, then we would obviously be happy to sit down and discuss with them,” West Vancouver mayor Michael Smith told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “But they have to make the decision first whether or not that’s the direction they want to go in.”

      Smith emphasized that West Vancouver would move toward joining a North Shore–wide police force if there were financial and other advantages for the municipality.

      According to the mayor, West Vancouver spends about $13 million annually on police services. “As a matter of policy, I don’t think West Vancouver council could afford to ignore any potential area for cost savings,” he said. “But, you know, I would stress that our citizens are very happy with our status quo. And we would need to be convinced that there was going to be at least an equal level of service and a substantial saving before there would be any interest on our part.”

      Smith acknowledged that an immediate concern for West Vancouver is its long-identified need to move its police headquarters to a new site. A modern public-safety building that will house the police department and a fire station will cost at least $39.5 million, according to a staff report.

      In 2009, the three North Shore municipalities contracted consultancy firm Perivale + Taylor to review their policing services. In their report, the consultants identified the establishment of a North Shore regional police force as one of a number of directions the local governments can take.

      “This model would provide the opportunity to take advantages [sic] of the greater economies of scale and would assist the implementation of the recommended consolidations of telecommunications, detention facilities, and crime analysis, and 24/7 uniform deployment,” the report stated.

      The consultants also pointed out that although municipalities policed by the RCMP would lose a federal subsidy to cover 10 percent of their contract costs, this “could potentially be balanced” by a lower cost per officer.

      District of North Vancouver mayor Richard Walton noted that he’s “nervous” about decisions his municipality has to make in connection with the RCMP contract it shares with the City of North Vancouver.

      “The challenge we have is the RCMP contract provides, as far as we can see, an almost unlimited opportunity for downloading costs without any control,” Walton told the Straight in a phone interview. “And the contract that we’ve all been required to sign doesn’t address many of the issues, such as future costing and the cost of the new RCMP headquarters out in Surrey. So we don’t have the assurances that any government should in entering into a long-term contract for services. And it’s just bad business to do that.”

      He recalled that the two North Vancouver municipalities reluctantly signed the RCMP contract because if they didn’t before a certain deadline, responsibility for policing in their respective jurisdictions would have been taken over by the B.C. government.

      The RCMP contract includes an opt-out clause in which municipalities have to give two years’ notice in order to break the contract. “If you want to set up your own regional or local police, it would probably take a minimum of two-and-a-half years to set up the infrastructure and train,” Walton said. “It’s not a small decision at all. Apparently, there’s no community in Canada that has withdrawn [from the RCMP] and gone private.”

      SFU criminologist Rob Gordon said in a phone interview with the Straight that a North Shore regional police force makes sense. However, he also stated that any move toward creating a regional police in the district is likely to be opposed by people like Peter Lepine, who became West Vancouver’s chief constable in 2009 following a 30-year career with the RCMP.