Police in Maple Ridge, and elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, are turning into first responders for treating the mentally ill, according to numbers given recently by the top officer at the local RCMP detachment.
In the past five years, the number of mental health files that police have dealt with has jumped 37-per-cent, while the number of mental health apprehensions – where police take people to hospital for other care – climbed by 50 per cent.
Fuel and equipment costs are also rising, show figures given to council Monday, and there are more computer-based crimes, and investigations are more complicated.
Because of tougher standards in court, investigating a domestic assault case now takes 10 times longer than it did 30 years ago.
An impaired driving case takes two and half times longer.
Ridge Meadows RCMP Insp. Dave Fleugel presented the stats just before council begins its budget discussions next week.
With the numbers just out, council will weigh what can, or should be cut from next year.
“Because there may be some decisions there,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin.
Assuming Maple Ridge hires an extra officer to keep up with population growth, overall policing costs could rise by seven per cent.
But council could just as easily cut the $20-million police budget, the largest piece of the municipal pie.
According to the presentation, wage costs will climb by just under two per cent next financial year, from April 2014 to March 2015.
Total regular pay will go from $7.8 million this year to $7.9 million next year. Overtime costs are capped at $630,000 for both years, with two per-cent-increases in the three years following.
When all the costs are added in, Maple Ridge’s policing bill will jump to $16.9 million. Another $3.5 million will be spent on police support and housing.
With Maple Ridge using the calendar year, policing costs are set to rise by about seven per cent.
Fluegel said later that Maple Ridge is among many municipalities dealing with an increasing number of cases involving the mentally ill.
“We have such a volume of files,” the detachment dedicated one officer full-time to handling such cases. That’s resulted in a reduction by more than an hour of wait time that police have to spend in the Ridge Meadows Hospital waiting room, he pointed out.
The Salvation Army’s Caring Place says the same thing.
“We see more mentally ill people all the time,” said Caring Place director Darrell Pilgrim.
At the daily meal program, 38 per cent of the people self-identify as mentally ill, he added.
“That’s a huge number.”
Other costs are pushing up police costs.
“Policing has changed a lot in the last 10 years and technology is a major driver of it.
“Threats from Facebook didn’t happen five years ago,” Fleugel said.
Fleugel said most crimes now require police to find and seize any video recordings of the incident. That video has to be processed, stored and presented to Crown in the proper format. A decade ago, police didn’t have to contend with as much Internet crime or try to find a stolen cellphone that’s been located in another city.
He also told council that Maple Ridge is growing faster than other municipalities. As a result, the police force has to match that growth or fall behind in the stats that measure police performance.
Since 2003, the number of RCMP officers working in Maple Ridge has risen from 68 to 93 – an increase of 27 per cent.
That’s due to increase next year by another officer. As Maple Ridge’s population increases, its police force must also increase to maintain the police ratio per population, which is already one of the lowest.
In Maple Ridge in 2011, that sat at one cop for every 874 people.
New Westminster had a lower ratio, at 629 people per officer. Coquitlam was at 841, while Pitt Meadows was 834.
When it comes to case load per officer, Maple Ridge Mounties are in the middle of the pack. Each officer is handling 66 Criminal Code cases, while Chilliwack RCMP officers deal with 76 each. Abbotsford police have it the easiest, with only 38 cases per officer.
As for the total number of Criminal Code offences, Maple Ridge is also in the middle of the pack, with 5,844 offences, while Kamloops (with a larger population) has 9,202. Only 1,126 offences were recorded in Pitt Meadows in 2011.