Should the Lower Mainland have regional police force?

December 26, 2012

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Administrative structures are not generally an exciting topic. But since the former attorney general Wally Oppal recommended creating a regional police force in the Lower Mainland, it has become a topic of fierce debate.

Oppal was commissioned to investigate why the system had failed the women from the Downtown Eastside who Robert Pickton preyed on. He recommends that, in order to increase co-operation and evidence sharing, all police detachments across the Lower Mainland be amalgamated.

On the surface it seems like a good idea — one big police force working together and maybe even reducing costs for taxpayers by finding savings from amalgamation. The trouble is that even supporters of this idea admit it probably won’t actually save any money. Police stations will still be needed even if all officers are wearing the same uniform.

The big problem with this recommendation is the old idea of no taxation without representation. Right now, municipalities either contract with the RCMP for police services or run their own police department. This means that the police are directly accountable to the elected mayors and councils who pay their bills.

The reality is that the suburbs, where most of the people live, and pay most of the taxes, could see a decrease in their policing levels as resources could be transferred into the City of Vancouver. No wonder Mayor Gregor Robertson is such a big proponent of this idea — his city will get more police resources and everyone else will pay for them.

Taxpayers and voters have the right to expect that the councils they elect will provide them the best police services they can afford. For most of the region that means a locally based and accountable police force.

A regional police force would still operate detachments around the region and those offices would have to work together. In fact it sounds a lot like the RCMP — which currently provides policing to nearly two-thirds of the people in Metro Vancouver. I’m not convinced that a unified force would necessarily be any better at working together than RCMP officers in say, Burnaby and Surrey. These officers already share a uniform and ultimately are all within the same command structure.

We have seen great strides in police co-operation with units like the Integrated Gang Task Force. That should be the model going forward, not potentially less accountability and service for suburban voters.

Originally published in 24 Hours Vancouver

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