I don't think I understand the debate over a regional police force for Metro Vancouver.
Well, I understand part of the debate. There are certainly tradeoffs either way between having a big, integrated force for the entire urban area from West Van to Langley, or having local, municipal forces and RCMP detachments.
What I don't understand is Vancouver's position.
Vancouver has come out strong in favour of a regional force.
So why is Vancouver interested in joining now, when it hasn't been in the past?
Since 2003, almost every police unit in the Lower Mainland has sent some of its officers to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT). They're murder specialists, some of the best investigators from Surrey and Langley, the North Shore, Burnaby, and Coquitlam. Civic forces like New Westminster and Abbotsford have joined, as well.
But not Vancouver. Vancouver investigates its own murders, and IHIT's remit stops at Boundary Road.
IHIT has had its successes and its failures, like any police unit. But its mission is easy to understand. In smaller communities like Langley, Maple Ridge, or Richmond, murders happen more rarely, if not necessarily at a lower rate per capita.
Keeping a specialized homicide squad on duty is not justifiable. So instead, every small and medium-sized community shares the costs of investigating murders.
We also share a number of other policing costs across borders in the Lower Mainland. When people talk about local versus regional, do they know that the police helicopter service, or the police dog service, or various traffic and accident investigation services are already shared?
There are good reasons to keep local forces, and preserve local knowledge. A police officer who works a small area gets to know people, to gain the trust of the locals, and to identify the frequent lawbreakers on sight. One of the trends in the past two decades of policing has been towards neighbourhood policing, getting officers out of cars again and back among the citizens, in parks, on sidewalks and in schools.
There's been some speculation that the VPD was previously reluctant to join groups like IHIT because they would have been outnumbered by Mounties -inter-service rivalries go back to when Alexander the Great's cavalry and infantry had their first bar fight.
I think Vancouver's recent change of heart comes down to the idea that bigness itself is good, combined with Vancouver's natural notion that it should be in charge of the Metro region that bears the city's name.
Hold up there, for a minute. Creating a single, regional police force would also put command squarely in the hands of RCMP officers, or ex-Mounties if an entirely new force was created from scratch.
Vancouverites keep forgetting that they are not the dominant force in the Lower Mainland, and haven't been for a decade or so now. The suburbs outnumber the centre to such a great extent that we're creating new urban centres, like the Tri-Cities and Surrey, which in a few years will have as big a gravitational pull as Vancouver itself.
Heck, parts of Langley are approaching the density of East Van; parts of Surrey and Richmond resemble population maps of the West End.
If Vancouver is so interested in a regional force, why jump in all at once? Why not put on the training wheels, join IHIT, and see how that works out first?
? Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance.