Chilliwack city councillor Bud Mercer, second from left, makes the case before Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, for more policing resources for cities like Chilliwack, who’ve been underserved for policing rural areas outside city limits. (Laurie Throness photo)

Policing the rural areas around Chilliwack and other cities taking a heavy toll

City councillors and MLAs took policing beef to Victoria for sit-down with public safety minister

Policing the rural areas outside city limits is putting a strain on Chilliwack policing resources, and it’s unfair.

That was the argument Chilliwack reps made last week in Victoria on behalf of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) Board, while lobbying for increased funding for policing in a meeting with Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, who is also the Solicitor General.

Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness had set up the meeting with provincial officials, on behalf of Chilliwack city councillor Bud Mercer who presented the FVRD request for more policing resources.

“So it’s causing a strain on city resources and it’s not fair,” Mercer said, adding similar issues are faced by local governments like the City of Mission, as well as District of Kent, and City of Abbotsford.

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Coun. Mercer retired in the wake of an illustrious 34-year career with the RCMP, holding senior positions like Assistant Commissioner, as well as leading the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment before being elected a city councillor. So he was tasked by FVRD officials to broach the issue with provincial officials of being under-served in the rural areas by RCMP, since he brings an impressive amount of policing knowledge and experience to the table.

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Mercer was accompanied by Coun. Jason Lum, other FVRD officials, along with both local MLAs, Laurie Throness and John Martin, to talk about the negative impacts of increased population, and additional crime on the rest of Chilliwack and the other cities.

“While the cities have been actively increasing their policing complement to reflect population increases, the same thing can’t be said for the rural areas,” Coun. Mercer told The Progress in a phone interview. “So it means the cities are subsidizing policing in the rural areas.”

Chilliwack has 122 RCMP members, plus eight provincially funded officers for policing the areas outside municipal boundaries like Cultus Lake, Yarrow and the Chilliwack River Valley. The province is responsible for policing and enforcement in unincorporated communities of under 5,000, like the electoral areas of the FVRD.

Even before Mercer was deployed to Chilliwack in 1997, there were only seven provincially funded RCMP officers for all the communities outside the city limits.

“At that time it was rough,” Mercer said. “And 22 years later we have eight officers, which is only one more than we had all those years ago.”

The population of the Fraser Valley has increased considerably, by 30 per cent overall since 2001, and as much as 48 per cent more people in some electoral areas of the FVRD.

Generally it was a “very positive” meeting, Coun. Mercer remarked. “He committed to making the FVRD a priority and requested additional information.”

The formal ask from the province was for something between five and 10 additional officers for the FVRD areas.

“I am not mad yet,” Mercer said. “I am optimistic that the province will kick in their share of resources for policing the regional district electoral areas.”

A statement from the Public Safety Ministry said Minister Mike Farnworth “considers core policing a priority” across the province — and that includes FVRD. In terms of any forthcoming increases to provincial resources, “the RCMP maintains internal processes by which local detachments may report provincial resource pressures to BC RCMP HQ to identify and address resourcing needs,” it explained. “We are confident that they will consider any requests for additional provincial resources.”

The province is cognizant “there are a number of components that can impact crime including illegal drug activity, issues involving mental health, homelessness and more,” he continued. “To this end, the Province has supported Chilliwack through funding a situation table, the Chilliwack Interagency Response Table, (CIRT).

CIRT “helps frontline staff” from public safety, health, and social service sectors to identify “vulnerable people and collaboratively and rapidly connect them” to services before they experience a negative or traumatic event.

“The Situation Table also triages social chronic cases such as homelessness (which are not criminal in nature) away from the police and into the agencies and ministries that are best equipped to assist. This triage frees up police resources to focus on core policing duties.”

The communities of Chilliwack, Harrison Hot Springs, Hope, and Kent are serviced through the RCMP’s Upper Fraser Valley Regional detachment. The detachment also serves FVRD’s Electoral Areas A, B, C D, E, and H. The District of Mission has its own RCMP detachment. This detachment also serves Electoral Areas F and G. Abbotsford has its own police force.

MLA Laurie Throness tweeted after the meeting: “We made a good case, now it’s up to the government to respond.”

The idea to formally ask the province to increase policing resources emerged at the last UBCM conference, and now has been submitted well ahead of the provincial budgeting process, which wraps up by mid-February 2020.

“The request was made for more provincial resources to be put into policing in our city and in our region,” Throness said, adding the meeting was “cordial” and a success.

Minister Farnworth told them the province is conducting a B.C.-wide survey of policing to identify areas where crime is “going up,” the local MLA said.

“Hopefully in the next budget more money will be allocated for policing in the region, including Chilliwack,” Throness said.


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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