COLUMN: Single regional force would take a toll here

One issue now being raised by some in the wake of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot is regional policing.

This idea, if it came to fruition, would do a grave disservice to Surrey and other South Fraser communities. It should not get to first base with either local or provincial decision-makers.

On the night of the Vancouver riots, Surrey RCMP and several other detachments co-operated to ensure that there was sufficient police presence at 72 Avenue and Scott Road, which has been a gathering place for hockey fans throughout the playoffs. There was no trouble.

Police were also present at the community celebration at Central City. Again, there was no trouble.

Many of the police who were on duty in Surrey were called to Vancouver, when it became clear that there were big problems downtown, with arson, vandalism, looting and many other problems.

In the wake of the riot, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey to see if there was more support for a regional police force. Not surprisingly, there was. Three-in-five respondents favour an amalgamation of the RCMP and various city police forces that serve the Lower Mainland. Most municipalities have ether an RCMP detachment or their own force, with a few RCMP detachments such as Coquitlam, Langley and North Vancouver serving more than one municipality.

The big problem that would result from one regional force is that it would be far too concentrated in Vancouver. As the riot so clearly pointed out, many people from throughout the region congregate in Vancouver for various events. However, it is important to point out that they are specifically invited there by the City of Vancouver.

The city was proud of how many people it was attracting downtown with the hockey games on big screens and street closures. Until Game 7, there were very few problems.

The city also invites people to come to the annual fireworks displays each summer – and to many other events, such as parades, the PNE and other smaller gatherings. The Grey Cup game will be held in downtown Vancouver in November.

Surrey and other communities would get short shrift on many occasions, if there was regional policing. Officers on duty in Surrey would be told to go to Vancouver, and would be unable to answer calls here in a timely fashion.

We all know how well Surrey, Delta, Langley and White Rock have been served by a regional transit system. This area gets the short end of the stick. The exact same thing would happen if there was one regional police force, because its primary focus would be on the City of Vancouver.

There is some logic to having fewer police detachments and more regional task forces. The Integrated Homicide Investigative Team (IHIT) has worked very well, with virtually all Lower Mainland police forces except Vancouver taking part.

If there is a move towards integrating day-to-day policing, the logical choice would be to combine Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and possibly the North Shore and Richmond forces. While this would mean a mixture of city forces with the RCMP, something could likely be worked out.

If Surrey is ever to be part of a regional force, it should only be one made up of South Fraser municipalities. Given the close level of co-operation between the Surrey, White Rock and Langley RCMP detachments and Delta Police, it seems that a formal combination isn’t all that necessary.

Local politicians have to stand up for residents of this area, and make it clear that South Fraser communities would not be part of a regional police force. At the same time, local police detachments need to serve as backup to Vancouver and other police forces when necessary – as they did so admirably on the night of the riots.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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