Police Reform Recommendations and the Impact to Surrey Police Service
Municipal Police Service vs Provincial Police Service
With significant discussion taking place about the concept of a Provincial Police Service in British Columbia, it is important to understand the differences between this type of organization and a Municipal Police Service.
The Province of British Columbia is responsible for the oversight of policing in BC and contracts the RCMP as the Provincial Police Service for unincorporated areas and municipalities under 5,000 population throughout BC.
Section 3(2) of the BC Police Act states that municipalities with populations over 5,000 people must provide policing by either contracting with the province for RCMP services, contracting with a neighboring municipality, or by establishing their own municipal police department. Many municipalities in BC choose to contract the policing services of the RCMP.
There are currently 12 independent municipal police departments in BC. In the Lower Mainland these include: Abbotsford, Delta, New Westminster, Port Moody, Vancouver, and West Vancouver. Surrey will be the 13th city to move to a municipal police department. The potential introduction of a new Provincial Police Service would not impact any municipalities with municipal police departments, unless they chose to change their policing model.
It is important to note that although a change to a Provincial Policing Service may affect municipal participation in integrated teams such as the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team or the Integrated Police Dog Services, any municipality with a municipal police service would retain these services if they choose. The municipalities’ core policing functions would not be changed by the introduction of a new provincial police service.
Regionalization of policing has been a topic of discussion for decades in British Columbia. The Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act has resurfaced the conversation recognizing the growing complexities of modern-day policing and that “crime does not respect municipal borders”. The BC Association of Police Boards, in a submission to the committee, explained that “by integrating and sharing resources among police agencies, all communities can benefit and optimize the effectiveness and efficiency of such services without compromising the core community policing services”. However, they went on to caution “against any attempts to force regionalization of police agencies without the full support of impacted municipalities…that to advance trust and support of policing, core community policing services are best carried out within the municipality involved and with the oversight and governance of local police boards who are in touch with local conditions and requirements”.
Nowhere in the recommendations by the Special Committee on Police Act Reform does the committee suggest that the provincial government would remove municipalities from local policing decisions. In fact, a key recommendation is to establish a governance model within a new Police Act that is representative of the community and provides opportunities for local input on policing and public safety priorities.
Timelines for Structural Reform
It is impossible to establish any timelines for structural police and oversight reform as the provincial government is considering the recommendations and whether to endorse either material amendments or a complete overhaul of the Police Act. It can be assumed however, that meaningful structural change will take a significant amount of time and investment from all levels of government.
The work of Surrey Police Service, Surrey Police Board, the City of Surrey and provincial and federal government in the transition of contracted policing to independent policing will be foundational to any policing restructures in British Columbia. The work that has been, and will continue to be, accomplished is creating a roadmap for future police reform.
To read the full report by the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, click here.
Surrey Police Board