Opinion

Policing costs are out of control

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Many RCMP officers quietly express the opinion that changes in the legal system and changing social expectations have turned our local detachment into little more than a collection of social workers and secretaries with guns.

And it’s all at a huge cost to local taxpayers.

When the cost of civilian support staff is added to the annual police budget, Maple Ridge is currently spending in excess of $20 million per year to preserve law and order.

We also have a municipal bylaw enforcement department, which is not included in the overall police budget.

Longstanding jokes about the number of Mounties observed patronizing local donut and coffee shops have grown stale and unfunny when you stop to consider the increased demands placed on police in our communities.

The local detachment strength currently stands at approximately 90 members and is probably understaffed by at least six members.

Even without adding new members to bring the unit up to recommended levels, the annual budget will continue to escalate by more than four per cent every year for at least the next several years.

Much of the exploding costs can be laid at the feet of the federal and provincial governments, which recently imposed the current contract on municipalities employing the RCMP.

The burden of pensions and other costs which have little to do with placing manpower on the streets has been downloaded onto the backs of local taxpayers while senior levels of government claim they are reducing costs.

The costs continue to grow and there still remains only one level of society that can’t pass the bills onto anyone else and that is taxpayers.

While senior government officials claim so-called cost reductions, there has been no actual bottom line reduction in costs and taxpayers get stuck with ever-increasing bills for the same services.

The increase in paperwork requirements and court appearances during trials has reduced the number of officers available for patrols and other police work and has reduced the visibility of police on our streets.

What this means is that, while the detachment strength is greater than it was a decade ago, the effective number of RCMP on the ground at any given time has been reduced.

The recent appearance of foot patrols in the downtown area is a result of sharing between the downtown business community and the local detachment, but it comes at the cost of paying some regular RCMP members overtime.

There is a recurrent call by the public to increase traffic patrols, but, once again, the deployment of RCMP to do this work is very expensive. And it could be carried out more effectively and cheaper with a municipal traffic enforcement department.

The business community picks up the lion’s share of costs for the private security firm involved in the foot patrols, while the rest of us pick up the overtime costs for the regular RCMP members.

The creation of integrated regional police services such as the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) and forensic services has been very effective at solving serious crimes, but also comes at a huge local cost which will exceed $2.5 million for this fiscal year.

Pension liabilities and the local share of the regional RCMP command structure will also create an ongoing huge percentage increase in costs to local taxpayers for the foreseeable future, and there is not much that can be done about it due to the RCMP contract foisted on local taxpayers by the provincial and federal governments.

While the RCMP continues to set a high standard for effective law enforcement, how much longer can taxpayers afford these services, and would we be more economically served by municipal or provincial police?

 

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor.

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