BY DERMOD TRAVIS
Over the past few days, British Columbians have been treated to a second Surrey city councillor, Brenda Locke, jumping Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition for possibly more treacherous waters, six of Surrey’s largest Sikh and Hindu temples calling on Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to approve McCallum’s plan to switch from the RCMP to a municipal police force and a few featuring the health employer tax as one of the causes behind the Victoria police department’s budgetary woes.
Hate to let a few facts intrude on the fun, but lost in the debate is that a handful of B.C. cities were home to some of the most expensive policing in Canada in 2017 – Victoria ($510 per capita) and Whistler ($572) – and some of the lowest ratios of police officers to population – Richmond (98 per 100,000) and Burnaby (117).
According to Statistics Canada’s inter-provincial comparison of policing costs, at a per capita level, B.C. was in fifth place ($334). No province west of Quebec ($325) spent less.
B.C. has the fourth highest crime severity index (88.9) in Canada and ranks fifth in police officers per 100,000 population (186). Quebec spent nearly $10 less per capita and had a better ratio of officers (189).
It’s the regional B.C. numbers that provide some interesting insight into what’s taken place over the years.
There are four regions in the province that together have a combined population of 3.4 million: the Capital Regional District (CRD), Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley and Central Okanagan.
Policing statistics are available for 36 of the communities in the four. Together they spent a little more than $1 billion on policing in 2017 or $309 per capita.
But what a range: from $132 per capita in Sooke to Victoria’s $510. In the nine communities surrounding Victoria, the average was $242.
Six of the communities in the CRD are among the 25 that spent the least per capita on policing and that includes Richmond ($209).
The same pattern that existed in the CRD was evident in Metro Vancouver, where 16 communities spent an average of $264, while Vancouver was at $451.
Fraser Valley same thing: Abbotsford spent $342 and the four other communities $279. In Central Okanagan, Kelowna forked out $283, while three others spent $137.
Call it the piggyback theory: leave the heavy lifting to the largest community in each region without fully accounting for regional criminal activity, while funding local needs based on local activity.
Take the CRD as an example. If Sooke and North Saanich spent the same per capita as Powell River, Colwood and View Royal the same as Sechelt, Sidney and Langford the same as Vernon, Oak Bay the same as Port Moody, and Saanich and Central Saanich the same as New Westminster, the CRD would be looking at about $19 million more for policing annually.
Seven of the 36 communities spent more than the 10 province average of $352 per capita. The other 29 spent an average of $255.
What’s the impact of that spending on cities with some of the highest crime severity indices in B.C.?
Relying on data from Statistics Canada, Surrey would have had 864 officers if it had the same rate to population as Calgary, 929 if it had Toronto’s rate. Surrey had 732.
Richmond would have had 319 if it had the same rate as London, Ontario, 372 if it had Regina’s rate. Richmond had 206 and that included the 27 deployed at the Vancouver International Airport.
Looking at 76 communities across B.C., 27 had a better ratio of officers to population than Surrey, including Victoria, Prince George and Nanaimo.
Twenty had a worse ratio than Richmond, including Langford, Salmon Arm and West Kelowna.
This week, officials in Thunder Bay called on the provincial and federal governments for additional help to deal with its opioid-overdose crisis. In 2018, 44 people likely died of overdoses in that Ontario city.
According to data from the B.C. Coroners Service, there were 12 fentanyl-detected deaths in the province in 2012. By 2017, it had reached 1,223.
Meanwhile the number of police officers in Vancouver, Mission and Burnaby didn’t budge in the same period. Abbotsford and West Vancouver saw their numbers drop by two a piece. Port Moody gained one. New Westminster and Victoria gained two each.
Canada fell from 69,505 to 69,027 officers and the ratio from 203 to 188 per 100,000 population.
As a result of the maladroit bungling of the file by McCallum and the budgetary self-interest of communities in the CRD, the right questions to ask are being lost in all of the noise.
Only nine communities in Canada with a population of more than 100,000 rely on the RCMP for local policing. Eight are in B.C. Happenstance or design?
The two most important questions, though: what’s the best policing model for Metro Vancouver and the CRD and how do we get there?
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca