EDITORIAL: Doubled duties warrant review

Practice of housing prisoners at White Rock RCMP detachment is a costly one worthy of review.

An in-custody death last week of a White Rock woman found unresponsive at the detachment is reason to pause.

As the Independent Investigations Office delves into whether officer action or inaction played a role in this loss of life – and, for all involved we sincerely hope it didn’t – the incident raises questions around policing on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

To be clear, those who serve and protect the citizens of White Rock and South Surrey are to be commended. Daily, they are prepared to risk their lives to keep our communities safe, and that can never be forgotten.

However, as friends and family of Patricia Anne Wilson wait to learn more about why she died in police custody on March 29, it begs the question of why she – or any prisoner being held for an appearance at Surrey Provincial Court – was housed at the Pacific Avenue detachment to begin with.

The practice is a costly one that has in the past been suggested should cease, in favour of transporting such prisoners to Surrey cells, which are located on the same campus as the courthouse.

Veterans of the job say the majority of those who end up in their custody are typically at high risk for health concerns.

Ensuring they are held in a location properly equipped to deal with the worst-case scenario is critical.

While the City of White Rock has always prided itself on having its own police and fire departments – boasting a “no call too small” policy – perhaps there are aspects that no longer make sense to keep in-house.

The logic of having two distinct detachments located within blocks of each other has also been raised before. Officers from both White Rock and South Surrey – reporting to detachments a kilometre apart  –routinely cross the “border” to assist each other on calls, regardless of where jurisdiction rests.

Across Surrey, prisoners are taken to the main detachment off of Highway 10, where the cells are staffed 24/7.

In White Rock, the detachment has a much smaller capacity and far fewer personnel.

Is amalgamating services the answer? Not necessarily. But certainly, aspects of the job – namely, how and where prisoners are dealt with – warrant review.