Municipal police force for Kelowna? Get your wallets out

Image Credit: FILE PHOTO

KELOWNA - It could cost as much as $20 million to switch from the RCMP to a Kelowna municipal police force.

At a recent mayoralty forum, candidate Tom Dyas called for a review of policing options, including the option to convert to a municipal force.

We had a look at other areas in B.C. using municipal police forces. In Victoria-Esquimalt, which is roughly the same size by population, taxpayers pay roughly a 60 per cent premium over Kelowna residents.

“When you have a municipal police department, you have to pay 100 per cent of the costs (vs. 90 per cent with the RCMP),” Victoria city controller Steve Hurcombe told iNFOnews.ca. “The 2018 budget was $53.9 million.”

That was for 243 police officers and about 100 civilian staff serving about 100,000 people in the Victoria-Esquimalt policing area.

By comparison, the City of Kelowna budgeted $32.1 million in 2018 for almost as many officers (194) and about 75 civilian staff to serve a population of 127,000.

The Abbotsford Police Department is costing that city $51.4 million this year for 216 officers and 77 civilians servicing about 141,000 people.

While Victoria and Abbotsford forces are both larger than Kelowna’s, the $20 million higher cost clearly covers more than just wages for officers. Municipal police officers make roughly $100,000.

In all, there are 12 B.C. cities with municipal forces.

Most are clustered around Victoria and Vancouver but there is one in Nelson.

Along with the Victoria-Esquimalt police force, there are separate forces in Saanich, Central Saanich and Oak Bay. The rest of Vancouver Island is serviced by the RCMP.

“There have been arguments for and against joining the forces together,” Victoria Times-Colonist police reporter Jeff Bell said. “Just as there’s been talk of amalgamation of some of the municipalities around here.”

From Bell’s perspective, there are no concerns about co-ordination between the police forces. Police chiefs meet regularly and many services, such as serious crime, are regionalized.

And all police officers certified in B.C. can operate anywhere in the province, Hurcombe said.

In the Lower Mainland, Vancouver has the biggest police force but there are separate municipal forces in Delta, New Westminster, Port Moody and West Vancouver, along with Abbotsford.

One of the reasons municipalities may prefer their own forces is their ability to recruit and retain police officers – which is not always the case with the RCMP.

The starting wage in Victoria is roughly $70,000 and climbs to more than $100,000 after five years and officers don’t have to worry about being transferred out of town or out of province. In 2016, RCMP officers started at $53,000 and moved up to $86,000 in their fifth year. 

The other big selling feature is the local police boards have a strong say in policing priorities, where the RCMP is a national force and is not answerable to municipal governments.


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