Does the Lower Mainland need a regional police force?

Outside of New Westminster Police Station. Photo by Trevor Beggs

A photo taken outside of New Westminster Police Station. Courtesy of Trevor Beggs

Family and friends cried out to the police for help back in the early 1990s. Women were disappearing from the downtown east-side of Vancouver, but police pushed the issue aside.

Different Lower Mainland police forces made many poor decisions while trying to convict Robert Pickton for the kidnap and murder of those women. Although cries for help were first heard during the early 1990s, Pickton wasn’t convicted until 2007.

The tragedy is that many of these lives could have been saved if it wasn’t for the botched police work during the investigation. There were cases of poor communication between the Vancouver police department and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The RCMP in Port Coquitlam, where Pickton’s farm was located, deemed the investigation by the Vancouver Police Department on Pickton in the late 1990s as “low priority.”

In the time between the investigation done in the late 1990s and Pickton’s conviction in 2007, 11 other women were murdered, according to the police report.

Why does his case matter now?

Now that the ballots have been counted following municipal elections across the Lower Mainland, perhaps there needs to be a discussion about a regional police force. With the Pickton case as the glaring example, it shows that there is an obvious disparity between police forces.

Currently, there are six separate police forces in the Lower Mainland. The Vancouver Police Department, West Vancouver Police Department, Port Moody Police Department, New Westminster Police Service and Delta Police Department are independent police forces, while the RCMP is in charge of every other municipality in the Lower Mainland. This includes the municipalities of Surrey, White Rock, Richmond, Burnaby, North Vancouver and Coquitlam.

Grant Rice, an independent mayoral candidate in Surrey, said that a regional police force should be part of the discussion on how to tackle crime across the Lower Mainland. It was an interesting proposition, considering that crime was the hot button issue in Surrey going in to the election.

“Some of the benefits include integration of crime task forces and information sharing. There would also be a better utilization of resources,” Rice said.

None of the other three main candidates running for mayor in Surrey mentioned that a different police forced should be brought in to replace the RCMP. The only mention that was remotely close to the issue was Barinder Rasode, stating that the city would hire community officers to patrol the streets.

Rice also says that a municipal police force could also be an option going forward.

“My contention is that a regional force should be discussed as one of the three options.”

The problem with having a regional police force for the Lower Mainland, is that the RCMP doesn’t appear to be leaving Metro Vancouver any time soon. A 20-year contract was signed last March with the RCMP in the Vancouver region. However, the contract will be reviewed every five years, and there is an opt-out clause, which requires two years notice if the province or municipality is not satisfied.

Pickton’s case gives a strong argument as to why there should be a conversation about implementing a regional police force. Many crimes expand between municipalities, whether it involves gangs, theft or preventing prolific cases such as Pickton’s.

It may also be easier for police to combine forces when large scale events occur around the Lower Mainland.

“Events like the Vancouver fireworks in English Bay and Fusion Fest in Surrey could be handled more easily with some flexibility in how these events are staffed,” Rice said.

Putting more officers on the ground won’t necessarily help deter crime, and it certainly wouldn’t do much if different police forces can’t communicate properly. Good communication between police forces is integral for getting tough on crime.

Trevor Beggs

A third year Journalism student, taught by some stellar professors at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Currently covering the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.

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