Steve Thorlakson: A simple, money-saving solution for policing in B.C.


We left off last week’s column in 1920, when the Royal North West Mounted Police became the RCMP after merging with the Federal Dominion Police. 

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What not too many people are aware of is that the RCMP and its predecessor forces had only limited presence in B.C. until 1950, as the BC Provincial Police covered that role. The BCP barracks from the Old Fort is located at the North Peace Museum – go and check it out! 

In 1950, the RCMP and BC Provincial Police merged, and since then the RCMP has been the primary policing body in the province. Several communities — Vancouver, Saanich, New Westminster, and Nelson are some examples — have their own local police, but the RCMP are still in those locations, largely dealing with federal issues such as customs, immigration, as well as major crimes. 

The RCMP has also evolved in the 69 years since 1950. Presently, municipalities over 15,000 in population (Fort St. John), pay 90% of the police bill for the community, and the feds pay 10%. 

Communities from 5,000 to 14,999 in population (Dawson Creek) pay 70% and the feds 30%. Communities under 5,000 (Chetwynd, Taylor, Hudson’s Hope) pay 70% of 33% (23.1%), with the province paying the bulk of the difference. This is also true for the rural areas. 

The province’s share of costs is $381 million as of 2016. The “provincial” service includes rural, small community and First Nations policing, and highway patrol. Provincial services housed by larger and smaller municipalities is approximately 780 officers, and the province pays for an extra 1,800 members assigned to provincial, district, and specialized resources (think the Major Crimes Unit). 

Confused yet?

The cost per member in rural, small community, First Nations, and highway patrol is approximately $203,000 per member, including all costs. The cost per member for Alberta’s Sherriff Service, which is responsible for highway patrol and other less intense police-type services, is at least 40% less than full RCMP service. 

By now, you know where I am going with this. 

If Alberta can save money using provincial (not federal) employees – which means they are covered by the Alberta union agreements (in B.C. would be BCGEU members), why can’t B.C. do the same? 

I’ve suggested this to B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, and he said he looks forward to reading my columns. 

Not only could we reduce costs by some $60,000 per member (all in) or at least $200 million per year, it would lower the tax burden on property tax and, perhaps even more significantly, take the pressure off to supply RCMP members to understaffed areas — or even fully staff the money laundering unit.

The ball’s in your court, Mr. Farnworth – I’ll be pleased to help in any way I can!

Steve Thorlakson is a resident and former mayor of Fort St. John.

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