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Richmond could join Vancouver Police

A single police force serving Richmond and Vancouver would provide civilian oversight, local control and $2.1 million in annual savings to local taxpayers, according to a new report.

Amalgamating police services of the two cities is one option in front of Richmond’s civic politicians, who are again considering a break from the RCMP in favour of a force with greater local accountability.

On Wednesday staff at Richmond City Hall will ask councillors what idea—if any—should be studied further.

“We should always be asking ourselves if we can improve the community safety situation for our city,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie. “We’ll see where it ends up.”

Richmond’s been down this road before. In 2009, a $135,000 city-led review failed to conclude if Richmond would be better suited with something other than the RCMP. A new review could cost another $150,000.

Brodie said more study is worthwhile, noting the city’s dissatisfaction with the new 20-year RCMP contract, which Richmond signed in June, and was one of the last B.C. cities to do so.

Richmond has several options. It could establish an independent force, but that would come with a cost up to $3.4 million for vehicles and equipment—which is also the amount the city would lose each year in a federal subsidy it now gets for contracting the RCMP. Alternatively, Richmond could go it alone and share services with the RCMP or another municipal force.

Convincing other cities to start a regional force is another approach.

But the least costly option is joining forces with Vancouver. Such a move would come with a $2.5 million initial cost and an operating cost of $35.6 million—$2.1 million less than Richmond pays with the RCMP, according to an analysis by the Vancouver Police Department. It would also give Richmond oversight on budget, policy and strategy on a police board with representation from both cities.

Richmond would also be able to share Vancouver’s unit that investigates public complaints, its emergency response teams, dog squad and negotiators. The marriage could even lead to “significant improvements” in response times, according to the VPD analysis requested by the City of Richmond.

Amalgamation would require approval from both cities and the province. In a letter to Brodie, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said dissolving the VPD and creating a new joint agency is worth discussing, but cautioned it’s “only a hypothetical option” and would require support from his council.

“There are clearly opportunities for synergies, economies of scale, improved co-ordination and communication and implementing best practices, not only between our two cities, but with others who might share the same interests,” he said.

“Obviously this would be a significant step for both Richmond and Vancouver.”

But Richmond’s mayor isn’t sold.

“My concern with being tied into Vancouver would be the level of service that you could expect after a certain period of time,” said Brodie. “Whether it’s looking at policing models or looking at models for other services, there’s any number of situations where a locale or an organization gets lost in this big picture. So I would have a lot of questions about that.”

Brodie said if Richmond decided to connect with another city’s municipal force, doing so with a smaller community would probably make more sense.

“You’d be more important to the whole policing model,” he said.

Richmond is the third largest municipal RCMP detachment in Canada, followed by Surrey and Burnaby. Cities can terminate their contract with the RCMP with at least two years notice.

Richmond officials have repeatedly said they don’t take issue with service provided by RCMP officers, but rather the costs and accountability of the force—including the cost of the $1.2-billion RCMP E Division headquarters in Surrey and a 5.25 per cent pay increase for Mounties that was more than anticipated.

For some local councillors like Coun. Ken Johnston, the most recent example came last month after learning Richmond has overpaid for RCMP’s specialized teams to the average tune of $371,000 in the past three years.

Said Johnston: “The RCMP provides a great service in Richmond, but the accountability factor keeps raising its head.”

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