FACED with the prospect of dramatic cost increases connected with the RCMP, the North Shore's three mayors are calling for a study to examine alternatives, including - possibly - a single, unified force for all three communities.
District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton, City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto and Mayor Michael Smith of West Vancouver met Monday to discuss the future of policing in the area. The decision reached at that meeting, according to the mayors, was to commission a report, subject to the approval of their councils, that would evaluate alternative models to determine if any would be superior to the current system, in which the two North Vancouvers are patrolled by the Mounties and West Vancouver by its own municipal force.
The move comes as both the city and district of North Vancouver continue to balk at signing a new 20-year contract with the federal police service, which they say leaves them vulnerable to cost increases of as much as 33 per cent over five years.
Although the details have yet to be determined, the proposed study, which would comprise the second phase of the North Shore Police Services Review completed several years ago, would focus primarily on one obvious alternative, said Smith. "I think it'll look at all the options, but I think the intent of the study is to look at whether or not a unified (locally run) force makes sense," he said.
"North Van knows we have no appetite in West Van for joining the RCMP."
It's an idea that seems to make sense, he said.
"If we had one command-and-control structure, one payroll department, one purchasing department, one dog squad, this sort of thing, it would provide more capability for the whole North Shore," he said. "
Historically, West Vancouver has pooh-poohed the idea of a unified force out of fear that its officers would be drawn out of its relatively quiet enclaves to patrol higher crime areas next door, such as Lower Lonsdale. But Smith said provisions could be included in any agreement that would guard against that.
"Each of the three municipalities would pick their service levels," he said. "In other words, we would say in West Vancouver we want to have a patrol division of a minimal complement of 'X'."
But the city's Mussatto said amalgamating services was by no means the main focus of the proposed report. "It's one of many options," he said. "Whether it's a North Shore police force, whether it's the current RCMP, whether it's doing something with Burnaby and Richmond, we'll look at all our options before we would decide to make any changes."
It could just be a matter of combining forces on a handful of areas, such as jails or dispatch, he said.
The district was similarly cautious in its description of the study's purpose. Chief Administrative Officer David Stuart, who attended the meeting with the mayors, said before the study even started, the municipalities would likely have to take a list of options to the province to see which, if any, the ministry responsible would approve - something required by law before any change could take effect.
There would be a lot of factors to weigh before the municipalities could reach a decision, added Stuart. "We have to look at what the transition costs would be, what the ultimate labour costs would be," he said. "There are many, many different variables that have to be taken into consideration."
Mussatto and Stuart both emphasized that North Vancouver is very pleased with the service provided by the Mounties; rather, it's the potential for rising costs that concern them. Both said they would likely sign the RCMP contract for now, and then take advantage of an opt-out clause down the road if a better alternative is identified.