FORMER solicitor general Kash Heed told me this week that Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has the power to instruct the RCMP not to make cuts in funding for gang and organized crime enforcement.
Last week, in my lead story titled “Provincial government versus RCMP: The politics of budget – and change,” I had reported how the RCMP was trying to gain public sympathy and so put pressure on the provincial government to restore the cut of $2.977 million for the fiscal year 2014/15. The total provincial police force budget is $325-million. The Province pays 70 per cent of the costs, while the federal government pays the remaining 30 per cent.
After leaking the story to the media and eliciting the expected anti-government reaction by the NDP, the top RCMP officer in the province, Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, issued a statement that the only cuts they could make in their budget would be to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit BC and to the Provincial Major Crime program.
In other words, gang and organized crime enforcement would suffer.
Professor Robert Gordon, Simon Fraser University criminologist, told me last week: “It’s highly likely that what’s going on right now is a rhetorical exchange through the media between the RCMP managers and the provincial government. They’re saying if you do this to us, we are going to have to cut back on our gang investigation activity if we are to be able to continue to provide core services to other communities in the province.”
Gordon added: “It’s highly likely that this is some sort of leverage point to try to get that money back or at least to have the cuts reduced.”
Gordon also suggested that there could be several reasons why the government had made the cuts, including:
* Wanting the larger municipalities that are policed by the RCMP to put more money into the policing part.
* Wanting the RCMP to turn over a lot of policing activities to non-sworn officers because it’s cheaper.
HEED, a former top police officer, who knows better than anyone else about the inner workings of the police, especially the RCMP politics in B.C., pointed out: “When you look at the cuts that are taking place right now, they are very minimal compared to the overall budget.” So one has to ask what the RCMP’s reasons are in identifying gang and organized crime as the areas they plan to make cuts in.
He bluntly added: “There is some politics being played out here, but the province has the authority under the provincial police act to tell the RCMP that they don’t want the budget cuts in gang and organized crime enforcement. The province can tell them that ‘No, this is the area that we do not want the cuts to take place.’ That’s the job of the Justice Minister.”
Heed said: “Everyone’s playing a little bit of a game here which is unfortunate because at the end of the day the public is the one that loses out. We still have a significant gang issue and organized crime issue in the province of B.C.”
He also noted: “First of all, we have to remember … the taxpayer pays for all of this and we spend over $1.5 billion a year on policing the province of British Columbia that includes federal, provincial and municipal policing. So there’s a significant amount of funds dedicated to ensure the public safety in the province of British Columbia.”
Heed also pointed out: “[Then-premier] Gordon Campbell and the Liberal government embarked on a 10-point gang suppression program in early 2009 and now we are starting to see cuts come from that particular program and that concerning.
“The Minister of Justice has to show some leadership here and demand that the RCMP do not reduce the funding that goes towards gang and organized crime enforcement in the province of British Columbia. These are things that are certainly within her powers to do.”
HEED went on to point out: “You also have to look at where policing is going here in the province of British Columbia and there’s no better community right now to identify a different style of policing – and that’s Surrey moving towards a two-tier police system, where in fact you have guardians in place, whether they be security guards or something at that level that you are going to put in areas that are very problematic just to be there as a visual deterrent for people committing crime or being able to notify the RCMP if they discover something that isn’t right.”
Heed said that is more efficient for the taxpayer. Also, you had to realize at the same time that you “can’t put a very, very expensive police officer in those areas and expect them to be in there because they’ve got other priorities that they have to deal with.”
He added: “So we’ve got to start thinking along preventing crime and preventing violence in our communities and you have to do this by a different style of policing and it’s time for us to consider a two-tier policing system here in the province of British Columbia.”
I asked Heed who had to take responsibility for such changes – the provincial government or …?
Heed replied: “The City of Surrey. For example, if you were going to hire several security guards and put them in public places, for example, around the parks, the community centres, the arenas – those particular areas where the city would hire security guards and put them in the area – the deployment of those security guards should be under the direction of the City Manager and not the RCMP.”
And the City should pay for it?
Heed replied: “Yes, absolutely. The city should pay for it. The City actually is responsible for providing security for their citizens. The policing is the responsibility under the police act for the provincial government and they delegate that authority under the act to municipalities. But the overall responsibility for securing a community and creating a safe environment lies with the local government.”
Heed added: “We have to start thinking outside of the box on solutions to our problems and Surrey is a great area to start thinking about that.”
He noted that candidates for November’s municipal election in Surrey are running on a platform of safety and security and added: “Well, you know, it’s a time to think outside of the box and get away from those traditional approaches and realize that the police, which is a costly item, have a role to fulfill and make sure they are held accountable and fulfil that role. But there are other areas such as ensuring that the community is safe that you can put other pieces in place such as private security or security hired by the City.”