Some communities could look at moving away from the RCMP once the Mounties unionize and costs go up, says a member of a group that represents B.C. municipalities.
A recent Globe and Mail investigation revealed that communities with RCMP forces offer significant savings for taxpayers, but the discount appears to come at a price.
Data from 21 B.C. jurisdictions showed that RCMP forces have disproportionately low staffing levels, with officers carrying significantly higher caseloads. The Globe's analysis also found that crime rates tended to be higher in jurisdictions policed by the RCMP rather than municipal forces.
Hundreds of jurisdictions across the country currently use the Mounties for local policing because of the discount the RCMP provides. Through a cost-sharing agreement, Ottawa covers 10 per cent of most policing costs in communities that opt for the Mounties. In communities of less than 15,000, the contribution rises to 30 per cent.
Labour organizers have highlighted the RCMP's low staffing levels, as well as concerns about pay and work conditions.
In an interview, Bruce Hayne, an executive member of the Union of B.C. Municipalities and co-chair of its committee on contract policing, said some municipalities have raised the possibility of shifting from the RCMP to an independent force once unionization takes effect.
"If the collective-bargaining agreement ends up being quite lucrative, then that's going to narrow the gap considerably between the RCMP option and the municipal-force option. And then I think you'd start to see more municipalities right across Canada looking at those options more seriously," he said.
Deputy Commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr, who is also the RCMP's commanding officer for B.C., said in an interview last year she was not overly concerned about municipalities moving away from the Mounties, though she said it was something the force should be mindful of.
In a statement on Wednesday, the deputy commissioner said she looks forward to working within whatever labour system is established.
"While it is still premature to know what the RCMP will look like once the new labour regime is in place, I continue to challenge my senior leadership team, as I do all employees, to identify and implement innovative measures to ensure employee wellness and safety are advanced; from recruitment to retention to retirement," she wrote in the statement.
The deputy commissioner added that all employees deserve fair compensation, a safe and respectful workplace and a healthy work-life balance.
Malcolm Brodie, mayor of the city of Richmond, said in an interview that it took a long and serious look at shifting from the RCMP to a municipal force a couple of years ago but opted to stick with the Mounties.
"We ultimately decided that the cost differential, which was significant, was not justified in going away from the RCMP. And so we decided to stay," he said.
The Globe's analysis found Richmond had the third-lowest policing cost per capita of the 21 Lower Mainland jurisdictions.
In a 2012 report called The RCMP Advantage, written by the force's B.C. division for the City of Richmond, the Mounties said their officers carried an average of 70 cases a year, 27 per cent more than their peers at regional independent forces and 48 per cent more than the average at Canada's 20 largest forces. "RCMP members are more productive," the force said at the time.
Mr. Brodie said he would be surprised to see Richmond revisit the RCMP matter in the near future "in the absence of something very significant" occurring.
He said the city has been satisfied with the policing it has received and its concerns had more to do with a lack of dialogue with Ottawa. The Union of B.C. Municipalities has said it would like a stronger voice when it comes to the labour discussion specifically and budgets more generally. The UBCM has also identified three long-standing issues involving the RCMP: How much municipalities owe on the force's new B.C. headquarters; how much municipalities who don't have as much need for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team should have to pay for it; and how best to handle the matter of severance.
Curt Griffiths, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said in an interview that the effects of RCMP unionization will be significant.
"I think working conditions and salaries are two things that are going to be, in my view, potentially game changers," he said.
Prof. Griffiths said RCMP officers in remote and rural areas can go months without a day off. On the issue of payment, he noted that Mounties' salaries are low compared with what some other police services receive.
Prof. Griffiths has said that RCMP jurisdictions in B.C. are "underpoliced" because municipalities don't want to raise property taxes.
When asked what responsibility municipalities should bear, Mr. Hayne – who is also a Surrey councillor – said every community has different policing needs. While Vancouver and Surrey differ in population by approximately 100,000 people, he said Surrey does not have to police hockey games or large concerts in the same manner, and does not contend with the same type of daytime employment rush.
"You just can't look at it in an equation as linear as that. But I think there certainly are municipalities that have run perhaps a little too lean. And they have to answer to their electorate if their crime rates are trending in bad directions," he said.
He said Surrey is getting a good deal on policing but has also invested in it, noting that the municipality added 100 new officers a couple of years ago.