Richmond will not establish a municipal police force and the Red Serge will continue to feature prominently in and around Richmond — at least for the near future.
That’s because, although a recent round of public consultation showed Richmondites generally favour the RCMP over an independent municipal police force, Richmond city council has decided to spearhead a call to form a regional police force.
The city will now invite regional RCMP cities to discussions on establishing such a force.
The decision came Monday after council was presented with a public consultation report on its Police Services Review that indicated the public expressed inquiries about establishing a regional police force.
In the meantime, the $20 million estimated price tag for transitioning to a municipal force — as well as higher annual operating costs — combined with the fact there didn’t appear to be enough cause for change, meant 59 per cent of decided residents surveyed chose to keep the RCMP, despite general consensus that a municipal force could provide better community policing.
“Ultimately the clear preference we heard from citizens was to maintain the RCMP,” said Anna Lilly, a lead consultant for Fleishman Hillard, which oversaw the public consultation process.
Council was split on whether or not the consultation process was adequate. Lilly noted many residents felt they were not educated enough on the subject, while several others questioned the impetus for council to undertake the consultation process, estimated to cost $150,000.
“Those comments came through quite significantly,” said Lilly.
On several occasions during a special public committee meeting on Monday, councillors revealed there was information — including a special report on policing — that was not made publicly available, but which could have explained why council was looking at making a change.
Coun. Ken Johnston said “a lot of this goes back years” and there are “things we can’t talk about.”
Coun. Bill McNulty opposed Lilly’s assertion that the online/telephone survey of about 600 people was a fair representation of the city. He also said turnout at the open houses was low (about 200 people attended five open houses).
“I was a bit disappointed,” said McNulty, who now wants to see more surveys done on policing.
McNulty also questioned the reach of the council-approved survey, indicating the South Asian community was underrepresented (respondents were 49 per cent ethnic Chinese).
Johnston asked Lilly if low voluntary turnout at open houses was indicative that the public generally has few concerns. Lilly confirmed that low turnout generally indicates such an assertion. Lilly nevertheless said she was impressed with the number of people who took the time to review the information at LetsTalkRichmond.ca.
“The people have spoken,” said Johnston.
Coun. Derek Dang said he wasn’t surprised at the results, given the information that was provided to the public. He said cost was a major factor.
“Once you start talking about dollars, that’s all you’re talking about,” said Dang.
McNulty also said money was a big factor.
“What the community has said to us — those who have answered with the RCMP as I read it — ‘I want the safest police force in the world; however, I don’t want to pay for it,’” said McNulty.
Dang suggested one of the sore points for council over the years has been “bullying” tactics from Victoria and RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, although he did not elaborate.
According to the results, response times and curtailing property crime were rated the most important policing priorities. Public disorder and traffic safety were rated as lower priorities.
Local control did not seem to be a big factor for the public, as many people expressed lack of confidence in city council, according to polling and submitted comments.
Despite “shortcomings” of the survey, McNulty said the information can prove valuable for future use.
“We have to go with it whether we like it or not,” said McNulty.
Coun. Alexa Loo said the process was “splitting hairs.”
She and Coun. Harold Steves noted they also heard inquiries from residents about forming a regional police force.
At the meeting, council directed city staff to advocate for the formation of a local police board to oversee the Richmond RCMP.