Ian Mulgrew: Forget Surrey, how about a regional police force?
Former judge and ex-Attorney General Wally Oppal seems to me to be an ironic mid-wife to help deliver a new Surrey Police Department.
It’s not that he’s a bad choice as chair of the transition team “to ensure all key issues are addressed and all complex details are in place to facilitate orderly transition.”
He’s a great choice, but …
For the last quarter-century, Oppal has been trying to amalgamate the patch-work quilt of Metro Vancouver forces, not exacerbate their dysfunction.
In 2012, as commissioner of the Missing Women’s Inquiry, he delivered a scathing report about the present policing structure and said it allowed serial killer Robert “Willy” Pickton to slay at will for years.
He slammed the fragmentation of police services in the Lower Mainland for botching the investigations and recommended a single regional force.
No one was surprised.
In 1994, after conducting a public inquiry into provincial policing, he presciently foresaw the problems and concluded that the disparate forces in metropolitan Vancouver and Victoria should be unified.
On Thursday, Oppal maintained: “The fact that Surrey is going to have their own police force doesn’t necessarily mean that the province in due course at some future time can’t move toward a regional police force.”
I don’t know if he said that with a straight face because he was on the phone from Los Angeles, but it seems farfetched to believe a new Surrey force might be a stepping stone to a regional force.
“The fact we have recommended in the past a regional police force doesn’t derogate from what is being done now. This could be the first step in a regional police force. I don’t know. Those are political decisions and it’s really premature to talk about that.”
Politics have long obstructed a rational approach to the delivery of policing services — perpetuating a fragmented system, frustrating integration and joint operations, hindering effective investigations, costing taxpayers a fortune in wasted resources, and sowing sorrow.
With all due respect to Oppal, allowing Surrey to establish its own force is helping to calcify that dysfunction, not herald a remedy.
If you started out tomorrow to design a police service, you definitely would not begin with the current model in the Lower Mainland — a checkerboard of departments and detachments.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense and it has led to tragedies such as Pickton.
In his landmark report on the murdered women, Oppal itemized the problems calling for a regional force: inconsistent or erratic communication, lack of evidence sharing, lack of clarity over whose case it was, lack of sufficient coordination, delays in establishing joint operations, lack of communication between the joint operations and involved departments, lack of prioritization attributable to inter-jurisdictional issues, and lack of resources due in part to inter-jurisdictional issues.
Cost is the primary reason behind the lack of political will for change.
Municipalities with populations from 5,000 to 14,999 pay 70 per cent of the cost base for policing by the RCMP. The federal government covers the rest.
Those with populations of 15,000 or more pay 90 per cent.
A dozen municipalities pay 100 per cent of their policing costs from property taxes to fund the 11 independent police departments (Victoria and Esquimalt share).
The province had an opportunity after Oppal’s 2012 report (when the RCMP’s policing contract was up for renewal) to seriously consider regionalization and amalgamation.
The previous B.C. Liberal administration couldn’t be bothered.
Especially since few were eager to abandon Ottawa’s subsidies — not those ratepayers in Port Moody or White Rock, and certainly not the penny-pinchers in Victoria. Spreading the pain and the amenities was a hard sell.
We need to face the fact that we are one metropolitan area and we need to share the attendant costs, not indulge Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s empire-building.
It is time to start thinking of law enforcement on a broader scale and recognize the self-interest of those advocating for the status quo or another municipal force.
Small departments are fine when you are chasing teenage miscreants or pacifying a thug in a pub.
But they are useless when it comes to anything larger, such as inter-urban gangs or a killer who picks up a victim in Vancouver, slays them in Delta, and dumps them in Cloverdale.
The smaller communities need us to support SWAT teams and specialized units, which is why we already have a great deal of integration within Metro Vancouver. We need more.
We’re past the point where we need police chiefs who know who should get VIP parking along the boardwalk for the sandcastle competition.
We can’t afford to be parochial any longer. The body count of unsolved “targeted” killings underscores that. The policing structure should reflect this reality.
While the growth in cooperation and integration over the years is laudable, the organization of policing in the Lower Mainland remains deficient because there is no regional plan or leadership.
Without a unified command structure, there are many people in charge, and when there are many people in charge, no one is accountable.
When there are a half-dozen leaders, the buck stops nowhere.
Ask yourself: Who was called on the carpet for the litany of Lower Mainland police failures — Clifford Olson, Air India, Pickton, the Surrey Six massacre, the Canucks riot, the Canada Day Plot, money laundering …?
A Surrey Police Department? How about a regional force and some accountability?