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Pickton probe calls for regional police force

Former B.C. Liberal MLA Wally Oppal is recommends forming a Metro Vancouver police force in his 1,450-page Missing Women Inquiry report. - Black Press
Former B.C. Liberal MLA Wally Oppal is recommends forming a Metro Vancouver police force in his 1,450-page Missing Women Inquiry report.
— image credit: Black Press

Missing Women Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal is calling on the province to create a Greater Vancouver police force after concluding a badly coordinated police response was a key underlying factor that let serial killer Robert Pickton keep killing for years after he should have been caught.

The former attorney-general, in his 1,450-page report titled Forsaken, says the fragmentation of policing in the Lower Mainland led to multiple police failures, including uncoordinated parallel investigations and the failure to share key evidence.

Among the 60 recommendations Oppal makes in the report, is to create an expert panel to develop a proposed new regional policing model and implementation plan.

"It is clear from the evidence that a regional police force stood a good chance of apprehending Robert Pickton much earlier," Oppal said, noting the region is the only major centre in Canada without a regional force.

The patchwork of municipal police and RCMP detachments in the region came into stark focus during the inquiry, as Vancouver Police took the view no crimes were committed in their jurisdiction, because Pickton's farm was in RCMP-policed Port Coquitlam.

"The missing and murdered women were forsaken twice," he said in the report. "Once by society at large and again by the police."

Metro Vancouver mayors have repeatedly dismissed talk of a regional force in the past, citing concern over loss of local control or officers pulled away to regional duties.

"A decisive step must be taken to break this impasse," Oppal said, adding he does not recommend "yet another study" on the feasibility of the idea.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson opposes regional policing, saying it would disconnect officers from local citizens.

"I just do not believe regional policing with a great faceless group of people from all over the Lower Mainland will do our cities in good stead," Jackson said.

Delta police chief Jim Cessford said he is a strong proponent of community-based policing, as it reduces the distance between the public and the police. However, a regional model may reduce the ability of local officers to engage the public.

"Bigger is not always better," said Cessford. "In Delta, we provide a 'no call is too small' service. We don't want to lose that. Regional departments can get to be so big you can't connect with the community."

A large regional police force might draw resources away from Delta, placing them in higher crime areas in neighboring municipalities.

"We have 14 cars on the road at any time," he said. "With a regional police force, I suspect that number would drop drastically."

Communication between police departments has greatly improved in theĀ  decade since Pickton's discovery, Cessford noted.

"Police departments do talk to each other, we do it every day," he said. Last month, Delta Police Department worked with Richmond RCMP to take down a Ladner-based drug dealing operation. The Delta Police Department was also involved in the integrated effort to bring those who participated in the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot to justice.

"We've come a long way since Pickton."

Cessford said he favors a policing model that integrates and regionalizes specialized departments, such as gang units, but still gives local departments some autonomy.

But whatever the direction regional policing takes, it should be steered by the public, as opposed to the politicians.

"We need to ask the people of Delta what kind of police department they want," Cessford said. "It's important to be open-minded."

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