The B.C. RCMP section that polices the province’s highways is moving away from responding to day-to-day road incidents, in a shift some municipal police forces say will have a negative impact.
The transition, expected to take place next year, will see the BC Highway Patrol (BCHP) cease responding to traffic-related calls like crashes, debris on the road and erratic drivers on highways in the Lower Mainland.
“This was historically a responsibility for municipal police departments, and somewhere approximately 12 years ago that changed with BCHP taking responsibility for those traffic related calls for service, but the reason for that is unclear,” said Chief Supt. Holly Turton, officer in charge of the BC Highway Patrol.
“What we are trying to do is realign and go back to that consistent mandate across the province and what was historically in place.”
Turton said the change will see the approximately 75 Lower Mainland members of her section refocus on the 400-member highway patrol’s core mandate, which is proactive efforts to reduce crashes that result in serious injury and death.
That mandate primarily involves targeting problem areas for speed, impaired driving and distracted driving enforcement, along with joint operations with the Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement unit.
The Delta Police Department, which has a jurisdiction including three provincial highways, says the move will result in a surge in workload — and policing costs — for its officers.
“When we did our workload analysis about how much work the BC Highway Patrol currently does on those highways I have mentioned, it will increase our workload about 100 per cent, it will double our workload,” Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord said in a Monday interview.
“The last thing we need is large backups at tunnels, bridges, or on the major arteries. So as a result we will need six people to be able to assist us with that work.”
Dubord estimated those six additional officers would cost Delta up to $1 million more per year, a situation he described as a “download” of policing costs to the municipality.
The department has made a budget request to the city to fund six new positions, and the Delta Police Board and the city’s mayor have also written to the province asking for help with the costs, Dubord said.
Turton denied the change will be a downloading of costs, pointing to the Police Act which she said has always specified municipal departments are responsible for day-to-day policing on their highways.
She also questioned Dubord’s analysis of the increased workload, saying the RCMP’s own data suggests the highway patrol responds to just two traffic-related calls for service in Delta per day.
She said the shift would, instead, allow her section to better crack down on speeders.
“We will see a reduction in those serious injury and fatal collisions and we will see a reduction in those traffic-related calls for service that we are seeing now,” Turton said.
“While it is important to go and respond to complaints about debris being on the highway and erratic drivers and those sorts of things, my people want to be far more proactive in the enforcement they do because they know they are making a difference.”
The refocusing of the BCHP’s operations was originally slated to take place in September, but Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said it was paused to allow “more consultation with local government.”
Farnworth told Global News the final transition will likely take place next spring.