Premier Christy Clark continues to sidestep calls for regional police forces in Greater Vancouver and the capital region as recommended by missing women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal.
Clark told reporters Wednesday that there is always room to debate the issue, but that municipal politicians remain divided.
“I’m absolutely open to having that discussion, but I do want to respect and acknowledge the fact that local governments have very strong and differing opinions about this,” she said. “Any solution that we land on I think has to respect the taxpayer and make sure we are keeping their burden as low as it can possibly be.”
Clark also reiterated her government’s preference for integration, in which municipalities retain their own police departments while contributing officers and resources to specialized regional units.
“It makes sense, and we have to continue to work toward integration,” she said.
In his report, released in December, Oppal said that integration doesn’t go far enough. He called for regional police departments in Greater Vancouver and the capital region after concluding that a unified force likely would have caught serial killer Robert Pickton sooner.
Pickton slipped through cracks in the Lower Mainland’s fractured policing system and went on killing for years after he was identified as a prime suspect, Oppal found. His report urged the government to end the political impasse that has for decades stymied progress on the regional policing issue.
“In light of the clear findings of this inquiry, this situation of a stalemate cannot be allowed to prevail,” he wrote. “It is time for the province of British Columbia to commit to the creation of a unified police force.”
But the deadlock has continued, with inner city mayors backing his recommendation and those in suburban areas opposing it.
In some cases, mayors expressed concerns about paying more while their community police officers get sucked downtown to police core area issues.
The NDP has shown no signs of taking a different position if they take power in the May election. Leonard Krog, NDP critic for the attorney general, said after the release of the Oppal report that the issue required further study.
Simon Fraser University criminology professor Rob Gordon, a supporter of regional policing, said both the Liberals and NDP appear content to dodge the issue rather than risk alienating some of the mayors.
“I guess the advice [Clark] is getting from her handlers is that: ‘;You steer clear of this sucker going into the election in May,’ ” Gordon said. “I suspect the same advice is being given to [NDP leader] Adrian Dix by his handlers.”
He said Clark’s comments on Wednesday differed little from what politicians have been saying for years to avoid the issue.
Oppal’s report makes clear that it’s time to take action, he said. “What are they doing? Ignoring it. Dilly-dallying. They’re doing all the things that Oppal said they shouldn’t do, but I think quietly probably predicted they would.”
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