COLUMN: Is a regional police force in Burnaby's interest?

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Should Burnaby resist the push from Vancouver to support a region-wide police force?

It’s an issue that’s been put on the table many times over the years, and in recent weeks Wally Oppal raised it once again in his report on the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

If there had been a region-wide  police force, he argued, serial killer Willie Pickton may have been stopped earlier thanks to better information sharing that would result within a single entity, rather than to leave it to the trust built up among a rag-tag patchwork of municipal forces and RCMP detachments who perhaps don’t know each other too well.

In Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson and police chief Jim Chu have both come out in support of a single force, yet many of the region’s mayors say stuff it.

In Burnaby, Mayor Derek Corrigan said he understands Vancouver position, and it comes down to dumping a lot of the costs into the hands of the ’burbs. Policing is typically the most expensive item in a city’s operating budget—and in Vancouver’s that’s a hefty sum.

Vancouver’s got the crime and, as Corrigan puts it, they want to put it on our dime.

Sharing responsibility for services is nothing new, of course.

Cities across the region do it all the time. One has only to step outside the boundaries of Burnaby and see municipalities sharing in the delivery of everything from education and fire protection to—yes—public safety.

On the North Shore, the city and district of North Vancouver share policing and a single school district. In the Tri Cities, a single school district serves Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody. Yet for policing Port Moody has opted out of the trio to run its own municipal force.

In the Langleys, the city and the township share both a school district and policing.

Similarly, the Surrey school district includes White Rock.

Across Metro Vancouver, fire services are usually operated locally. White Rock (pop. 19,300) has both its own RCMP detachment and its own fire service.

And over in the rarified air of West Vancouver, they do just about everything on their own, from police and fire to schools, and even down to their own bus service. Blue Bus Transit is the oldest continuously operated, municipal system in North America, in service since 1912.

In New Westminster it’s much the same. They even boast their own electrical utility, the oldest continuously operating electrical utility in British Columbia—since the city started generating electricity for streetlights in 1891.

In terms of policing, the sharing tends to happen when there are logical geographic and historic ties, such as in North Vancouver.

And for the bigger stuff, dealing with gangs or homicides, there are already regional squads that the individual forces contribute to. And many argue they are working well.

Like so many things, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

Megacities like Toronto, which was formed in 1998, are often criticized for bureaucracies that get bloated and expensive—which, if accurate, counters the whole argument for creating economies of scale.

On the policing front, the City of Burnaby has done its homework. And so have many cities in the region, assessing the costs and benefits of a single, regional force.

Today it makes sense for Burnaby to stay on its own, whether that’s contracted through the RCMP, as it is today, or by creating an independent municipal force. But the voices calling for a metropolitan force won’t be silent for long.

• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

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