BC budget cut to provincial RCMP threatens the safety of 670,000 people

The recent decision by the British Columbia government to cut $10 million from provincial RCMP policing puts 670,000 people and 120 communities at risk of higher crime and reduced police service while opening the door to the spread of organized crime.

As the former Director of Research for BC-RCMP Headquarters I can tell you that in many cases those small communities who are served by the provincial RCMP throughout northern, central, and southern BC have crime rates far exceeding that of the high-profile City of Surrey B.C. They just don’t have the good fortune to have a big city news focus, a noisy mayor, and political clout.

The latest publicly-available provincial data shows there are 41 communities throughout BC with Criminal Code crime rates per thousand that are above, and in many cases well above, what the BC government has set as its average target for crime. These communities are home to about 150,000 women, men, and children.

Those living in cities of over 5,000-population may have yawned at the Vancouver Sun’s November 14, 2019 scoop by reporter Kim Bolan that a $10 billion cut to RCMP overtime, travel budgets, and other discretionary expenses are happening immediately.

That’s because those in BC cities with a population between 5,000 and 14,999 have local taxpayers pick up the tab for 70 percent of policing costs with the federal government paying 30%. If you live in a city over 15,000-population, then taxpayers pay 90 percent of policing costs and Ottawa pays the remaining 10 percent. There’s zero contribution from the provincial government.

But if you live in a municipality with a population of under 5,000 or in a rural area, then the province must pay 70 percent of all policing costs with Ottawa contributing 30 percent. In the 2018/19 budget year the BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General budgeted $395 million for provincial policing, down about six million dollars from 2017/18. The recent provincial budget also forecast spending on provincial policing to be even lower in 2020/21—and that’s before the latest cut.

So what’s at risk to 700,000 residents dependent on RCMP provincial policing? A good clue comes from the BC Ministry of Attorney General and Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s 2018/19 – 2020/21 Service Plan tabled in the legislature. It states:

“Many factors influence police-reported crime rates, including demographic changes, neighborhood conditions, social and economic factors, public reporting practices, technological advancements, legislative amendments, local police service priorities, and social perceptions and attitudes towards certain crimes.”

All of those factors are pushing up the demand for provincial policing although it is very unclear if the ministry knows what and why. For years officials in Police Services have shown no interest in basing police strength on environmental scanning that forecasts the impact on crime. But they are not alone. RCMP headquarters in BC has also significantly downgraded the importance of such analysis adopting a “fire, ready, aim” approach to strategic planning.

The facts show there are significant risks to cutting the provincial policing budget because for years the budget has already been cut past the bone and into the marrow.

  • It will take longer for police to respond to public calls for assistance. Provincial policing is often spread over hundreds of kilometres. The “response time” that is measured in minutes within Surrey or Vancouver can often be well up to an hour or hours depending on geography and weather.
  • Many RCMP detachments in small towns and rural areas are already under-staffed. Where they are, the gap can be made up through overtime. No overtime, no policing flexibility and a likely reduction in service.
  • The stress from understaffing and many other factors on RCMP officers and civilian support staff working in rural and remote areas is well established. It is a situation threatening emotional and physical well-being. Knowing that the funding tap is being squeezed even tighter invariably means greater risks to employees.
  • Organized crime is rapidly oozing into the interior and northern BC as criminal gangs feel the heat from operating within the Lower Mainland of Vancouver. One of the fine features of the RCMP is its integrated nature. This means a constable in a small town or rural area is seamlessly plugged into provincial and national networks. The budget cut can mean less eyes-on-the-prize of stopping drug dealers and murderers and an open invitation to organized crime. Compounding this is the budget cut to integrated police units like the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) and The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU).

Finally, the RCMP in many small towns and rural communities is far from “just” a police service. Members of the RCMP pick up the slack of underfunded provincial agencies ranging from wildlife protection to a variety of community services. Cutting the RCMP budget means officers can’t help out other provincially-starved agencies and communities that many big-city folks never think of.

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