Regional policing is more efficient, but costs climbing

Chief superintendent of the Lower Mainland RCMP, and former officer in charge of Ridge Meadows detachment, shared some costs of the specialized police squads with Maple Ridge last week.

The emergency response team

The emergency response team

Supt. Janice Armstrong knows police are expensive and make up a big chunk of taxpayer-funded municipal budgets.

So the chief superintendent of the Lower Mainland RCMP, and former officer in charge of Ridge Meadows detachment, shared some costs of the specialized police squads with Maple Ridge last week.

“Policing obviously is extremely expensive. It certainly takes the lion’s share of municipal government and we recognize that,” she said during her presentation.

For example, the emergency response team, now at its full strength of 67 police officers, will cost Maple Ridge taxpayers $263,381 this year.

That’s an increase of 47 per cent from two years ago.

The integrated team that analyzes traffic collisions in the Lower Mainland will also cost Maple Ridge more. The district’s projected share for 2011 is $117,225 – up 19 per cent from two years ago.

When it comes to the canine squad, Maple Ridge is paying more as well. Maple Ridge for 2011 will pay $371,041 – a 23-per-cent increase from two years ago.

But Armstrong pointed out the district has gained by having the integrated police dog service, which now has 44 dog-handler teams around the Lower Mainland.

A dog and handler now are available around the clock whereas before integration, a team based in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows was only available one shift a day.

Now all those dogs are pooled with better coverage and reduced overtime, she explained.

“We’re able to keep our officers in these particular fields for a longer period of time.”

And before integrated teams, there weren’t many opportunities for advancement; officers would leave and so would their expertise.

Armstrong said regional integrated teams offer better value for the dollar.

“Now that we have an integrated team, all of those police services dogs are pooled and we’re able to have very extensive coverage and these dogs are available 24/7.”

The two other integrated teams, forensics identification and the integrated homicide investigation team also increased their budgets.

Maple Ridge now contributes $457,631 to the forensics ID team, a 28-per-cent increase from two years ago.

The murder investigation squad will cost Maple Ridge $693,031 this year – up by 13 per cent from 2009.

She said each team bases its budget on the number of people it has and the anticipated activity rather than budgeted amounts.

“The support we get from Maple Ridge council has been second to none,” she told council.

“These are your teams. They are a part of your community and your detachment.”

Maple Ridge’s general policing costs for its own detachment have also increased.

From 2006 to 2010, the district’s policing costs jumped 35 per cent – to $15.8 million.

That reflects an increase in the number of officers assigned to Maple Ridge from 79 to 84.

In the same time period, fire department costs jumped 84 per cent (to $7.2 million) as the district continues to move to a full-time/paid on call service, rather than a paid, on-call service. Roll-out of that plan, in which the fire department increases its paid force yearly, concludes in 2013.

When combined under the term “protective services” – fire, police, bylaw and animal control cost the District of Maple Ridge $26.7 million in 2010.

That’s a 39-per-cent increase from 2006 and is part of the district’s $96.6 million in expenses for 2010.

Coun. Mike Morden pointed out that some retired RCMP officers are being rehired, while collecting their full pension, and wondered if that was making it more difficult for junior officers to move up the ranks.

Perhaps retired officers should only be used in training capacities, he added.

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. that municipal spending “has become unsustainable” and that municipal staff get pay and benefits 35 per cent higher than comparable workers in the private sector.

But Morden would like to see an independent report on the topic before accepting that. However, said municipal workers are higher paid than those in the provincial civil service. He voted against the latest 13-per-cent increase in Maple Ridge council salaries.

He wants to change the method for computing salaries for non-union municipal staff.

“All I see are costs going up for taxpayers. There has to be a limit somewhere.”