Ian Mulgrew: BC’s broken policing system a boondoggle

Opinion: Even the government admits the half-century-old Police Act and the status quo are unsustainable. Significant modernization and sweeping changes are needed

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BC’s dysfunctional patchwork policing system has little accountability, makes a mockery of oversight and raises serious issues about the quality of service provided to different communities and equity.

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Even the government admits the half-century-old Police Act and the status quo are unsustainable — significant modernization and sweeping changes are needed.

In this province, there are 13 municipal police departments, 65 RCMP municipal detachments contracted through the province, First Nations police, designated units as well as integrated and specialized teams and Mounties carrying out federal responsibilities.

There are also more than 135 RCMP detachments and 20 community safety offices under federal jurisdiction. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP holds the force accountable to Ottawa, not the province.

The national force provides policing in only 132 First Nation communities because of federal funding shortfalls and Indigenous people complain about the second-class service and the lack of cultural sensitivity.

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Police training is not standardized in BC, though other provinces have specified training academies linked to the education system to create an evidence-based culture and ensure consistency.

Despite the incessant gang war in the province, there is no federal strategy and the provincial Organized Crime Agency is a junior partner in the RCMP-led Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, whose members can be deployed on other duties.

According to the province, taxpayers paid in 2018 about $1.96 billion or roughly $393 a person for policing: Local governments $1.31 billion, the province $408 million and the feds $246 million.

This broken, out-of-date system is costing more and more while public confidence plummets and a cultural chasm widens between police and those they serve, exposed by the ongoing protests and the defund-the-police movement.

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The deficiencies of expensive hodgepodge have been known for more than 40 years.

In 1994, former justice Wally Oppal conducted an inquiry and recommended to the last NDP government broad reforms that were mostly ignored.

There have been similar calls for change after other investigations — by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the missing women’s inquiry, the inquiries into the deaths of Frank Paul and Robert Dziekanski, and the 2019 Special Committee to Review the Police Complaint Process.

A regional police agency for the Lower Mainland has been recommended over and over as it would provide economies of scale and better service.

The capital needs a regional force to address identical concerns, the City of Victoria strenuously argues.

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There are more effective, more efficient regional forces in Halifax and the Ontario urban areas of Toronto and Peel.

Consider, as well, the inquiry into money laundering was told policing in the province also was hobbled by its military model based on discipline, a uniform and rising through the ranks — a regimented culture that turned off some potential candidates and complicated hiring experienced, top -notch specialists.

It flies in the face of British policing founded on a blue uniform, a proud lack of weaponry and an emphatic assertion that they were not the red-clad military but part of the community.

Two years ago, the legislature responded to the growing clamor for change and struck a special committee on reforming the outdated Police Act.

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It has never undergone a full-scale review since it was passed in 1974.

The Public Safety and Solicitor General’s ministry admits there is a lack of accountability, business acumen, business intelligence and data quality; gaps in governance; misaligned reporting relationships, uncertainty, inconsistency and confusion.

As well, that police are assuming roles outside of their core duties and expertise, that there is a perceived lack of trust among the public and limited accountability to their needs.

Policing in BC has become a boondoggle that puts people at risk and picks their pockets with little oversight or transparency.

No one would build a system like this and present policing structures prevent large-scale change.

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The committee’s report is due by May 14, but I expect little to nothing will come of it.

Realistically there are too many hurdles to accomplish much during the government’s remaining mandate and too many vested interests opposed to change — not least of which are the many public employees benefitting and the politicians who want police votes.

Retired cops can be found throughout the public service and government — a group responsible for enforcement in gaming only watched while cash washed through casinos, former Mounties have run the controversial Civil Forfeiture Office, a retired Mountie negotiated the latest RCMP contract between Victoria and Ottawa and , more recently, a 34-year RCMP veteran overruled Vancouver council to give the VPD more money.

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It’s difficult to see why Victoria would approve a new Surrey police force — its chief is a former assistant RCMP commissioner — if the government were soon truly going to consider a regional force.

BC policing has long been a mess while those well-compensated to ensure it worked sat on their hands. Both major political parties are to blame.

The province needs a more regionalized, effective model providing integration and centralization so the public can have a say, real civilian oversight and a means of getting what they pay for and deserve.

Wholesale changes are required to actually make the necessary pivot to a community-oriented, non-military policing model.

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