Delta’s mayor and police chief struck back Thursday at calls from Vancouver for a regional police force with examples of the no-call-too-small policing style they say their community cherishes.
And for Chief Jim Cessford, it doesn’t get smaller than the time he sent reluctant officers to a call about loud frogs ribbeting noisily in one man’s backyard.
They arrived to find the caller in “dire need” of psychiatric treatment.
He got help and Cessford counts it as a local policing win – he imagines the same man, ignored, walking into a restaurant with a gun.
“If you don’t sweat the little things, they become the big things,” Cessford said. “I’d prefer to deal with the noisy frog complaint, quite frankly, rather than a Newtown massacre.”
Delta Police visited one home in North Delta 250 times in a single year to respond to complaints about loud parties and barking dogs, he added.
“We put the pressure on, we problem solved and these people left,” Cessford said.
Police calls in Delta have fallen more than 40 per cent since 1995 – a plunge Cessford attributes in large part to the focus on local policing, even though crime has generally trended downward across B.C. in recent years.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson predicts a regional force would deplete Delta of the boots on the ground to deliver no-call-too-small policing.
“What is in it for my people?” she asked. “It would be taking our resources and putting them into Vancouver. The small things would not be cared for, there’s no question about that.”
Jackson cited the experience with regionalization in Halifax and Ottawa, adding that led to fewer officers in many areas and lower service levels.
“The advantages of a regional force go only to the big cities,” she said.
A mayor of a smaller city might never be able to phone up the regional police chief to ask for a particular policing priority, Jackson said, while back in Delta, her council can fire Cessford if things “go badly.”
And she predicted community policing buy-in would evaporate under a regional force – volunteers and reserve officers wouldn’t sign up.
Missing Women inquiry head Wally Oppal called last month for a regional police force and said serial killer Robert Pickton would have been caught sooner – saving lives – had one been in place years ago.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson endorsed a regional force Tuesday and gave the idea a further push when he said it should be a provincial election issue.
Oppal argued only a regional force can ensure a unified command structure and avoid the poor coordination and finger-pointing that plagued the Pickton investigation.
Cessford takes issue with some of those claims.
“Regionalization does not create leadership,” he said, although he conceded he’d probably push for a regional force as well if he were Vancouver’s chief.
“I’m not sure what’s in it for Delta,” he added.
Cessford and Jackson said they’d support a variation of regional policing that merges homicide squads and other integrated specialized policing units into a single regional specialty force but preserves the local police service – an idea Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts also supports.
Asked how much of a premium her taxpayers pay for an independent force operating under no-call-too-small directives, Jackson said what’s important are the results and residents’ sense of safety.
“People have never complained about the amount of money we are putting into policing.”
But Jackson promises community meetings to consider regional policing and determine whether residents’ back her approach.
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said Vancouver Police wrongly assume they should become the regional force, if one is created.
“Maybe the RCMP should take over the Vancouver Police Department,” he suggested.
He said policing has improved greatly through technology and integrated teams since Pickton.
“I don’t think regional policing is a panacea,” Fassbender said, adding the focus should be on better integration.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond recognized the “strongly held views” on both sides of the regionalization debate.
But she also emphasized the advances in integration between municipal and RCMP forces, covering everything from gang crime to child exploitation and forensics.
“The evolution of policing didn’t stand still after what happened with the tragedy of missing and murdered women,” Bond said.
“I don’t want that to be lost in this discussion. There is not a completely siloed approach to policing in the Lower Mainland that some would have you believe.”
Municipal forces police Vancouver, West Vancouver, Port Moody, New Westminster, Delta and Abbotsford, while all other cities have RCMP detachments.