Provincial government versus RCMP: The politics of budget – and change




RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens. Photo by Chandra Bodalia
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens. Photo by Chandra Bodalia


ON Wednesday, Leo Knight in his Law and Order column in the “24 Hours” newspaper reported on how cuts to the RCMP budget in the province would force police to cut down on their anti-gang operations.

The NDP, as expected, issued a press statement slamming the Liberal government for the “reckless” cuts that would “hinder law enforcement in their efforts to crack down on motorcycle gangs and other criminal gangs and leave more murders and missing persons cases unsolved.”

It was quite obvious that the RCMP leaked the information to the media to start a controversy, hoping that the government will be forced to reinstate all the cuts.

The RCMP’s head honcho in B.C., Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, issued a statement about the cuts later in the day, stating, “After significant consultation with my Senior Management Team and the CFSEU-BC Board of Governance, I notified the Province that the budget shortfall would be reflected in cuts to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit BC and to the Provincial Major Crime program.”

Callens said: “In order to make up the $4.2 million dollar deficit, CFSEU BC was cut by $2.8 million.  This will impact the number of enforcement teams and will be achieved primarily by: reducing the number of teams from six to five (12 positions), maintaining a vacancy pattern and reducing our assistance to partner agencies. Operational support will also be reduced. “

He added: “Within Major Crimes, a budget cut of $1.4 million was made and will impact the Special Projects / Unsolved Homicide / Missing Persons program. This includes the reduction of 13 full-time investigators within various projects.”

Professor Robert Gordon Photo courtesy Scrivener magazine
Professor Robert Gordon
Photo courtesy Scrivener magazine

Professor Robert Gordon, Simon Fraser University criminologist, told The VOICE on Thursday: “I don’t know that the budget cut is that specific. I don’t know that the provincial government would have said to them ‘ok, you’re going to get a $4 million reduction in your budget – this is where you need to cut.’

“It’s highly likely that what’s going on right now is a rhetorical exchange through the media between the RCMP managers and the provincial government. They’re saying if you do this to us, we are going to have to cut back on our gang investigation activity if we are to be able to continue to provide core services to other communities in the province.”

Gordon added: “It’s highly likely that this is some sort of leverage point to try to get that money back or at least to have the cuts reduced.”


THE Justice Ministry in a background to the media on Wednesday noted: “The Province approved an overall reduction to the $325-million provincial police force delegated budget of $2.977 million for fiscal 2014/15.  The Province pays 70 per cent of provincial police force costs – the federal government pays the remaining 30 per cent.  You will need to speak to the RCMP with regard to their actions on this reduction.”

The ministry appeared to place the blame on the RCMP for making the force announced by pointing out: “The Province has worked with the RCMP to find savings in a number of ways and any further questions regarding those operational decisions should be referred to them.”

The provincial government said it is “committed to fighting organized crime and gang violence, which is why we have invested significant funding over the years.

“Anti-gang units are active in Kelowna, Prince George, Victoria and the LMD as is the weapons enforcement team.

“Over the past few years the Province has passed laws prohibiting operating an armoured vehicle without a permit, and vehicles with after-market hidden compartments;  BC became the first Canadian jurisdiction to restrict the sale and use of body armour, and in 2011, legislation came into effect that requires health-care facilities to report gunshot and stab wounds to police.

“We continue to look for further opportunities to further integrate police services since it eliminates duplication and increases the sharing of expertise and information among police agencies.”

The backgrounder noted: “The bottom line is that, in tight fiscal times, Government must live within its budget while making the best decisions regarding public safety. It will continue to build on the approaches that have given B.C. its lowest crime rate in four decades.”


SO what’s going on?

Gordon told The VOICE on Thursday that there could be several possibilities about why the government had made the cuts, including:

* Wanting the larger municipalities that are policed by the RCMP to put more money into the policing part.

* Wanting the RCMP to turn over a lot of policing activities to non-sworn officers because it’s cheaper.

Gordon noted that organized crime is a very important area because “the minute you let go of it in terms of investigation activities, it flourishes.”

The police have been keeping a lid on it for a number of years. But if they are not able to maintain that level of pressure, then it could be that things would start to get worse again, he warned.

He said the budget cut was fairly sizeable, but added: “What we don’t know is how this was thought through in Victoria.”

Gordon said one possibility is that “there is the expectation that the municipalities will pick up some of the slack and it may be that what [the province] are angling for here is for the larger municipalities [that have RCMP policing] across B.C. to dig deeper and put money into the policing part.”

He added: “It’s not been talked about yet but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s not on the horizon.”

Gordon also noted that “there is already a move afoot in the RCMP to turn over a lot of policing activities to non-sworn officers because it’s cheaper. You don’t need a great burly guy to basically do finger-printing work, for example.”

He added: “There’s a whole bunch of things that outside of B.C. are policing tasks conducted by individuals hired by police forces even though they are not walking around with a uniform and carrying a gun.  And generally speaking you get more bang for your buck for folks who are not sworn officers who are working in those particular areas.

“I think that what’s going on is an attempt to leverage more of that and one way of encouraging the RCMP to embrace that – because they’re not enthusiastic – is to cut the budget.  So they have to do more, or at least what they’re doing now, with less.”

Gordon noted: “For example, the RCMP have been interested for some time in community service officers. These are individuals who are trained to a certain level to work in communities. They have uniforms but they don’t carry firearms. They are non-sworn members of the local police. So they don’t have the arrest powers and so forth that a regular RCMP officer would have. They’re much cheaper and you can direct community policing of a sort from these individuals. They are the ones who you might expect to see around shopping malls and places like that.”

Gordon added: “An effort is being made I think at the provincial level to encourage the RCMP and to embrace these kinds of ideas more fully. And this might well be behind what’s going on.”