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Is integrated policing worth the cost?

Whistler likely to opt into IHIT program while Squamish chooses user pay system

By Clare Ogilvie

Whistler is investigating whether or not to sign up for the services of the Provincial Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) following last month’s murder — the first in Whistler for many years.

“Staff is doing some further evaluation of costs and what the opportunities and risks are,” said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.

“Do we need to do this, should we be doing it?”

Integrated policing started about four years ago. The idea is to pool specialist officers and technology and use these teams to solve major investigations. The cost of the team is paid for by the province, and by the local governments that use it based on a formula using crime statistics and population. It is subscribed to by most places in the Lower Mainland Detachment, which stretches from Pemberton to the US border and from the Sunshine Coast to the Coquihalla Summit.

Whistler has provisionally put $100,000 in its budget for IHIT and the Emergency Response Team (ERT), which often comes to Whistler to help police big events such as the upcoming May long weekend. This year Whistler, which has a resident population of 9,200 but swells to over 30,000 on weekends, will spend $2.9 million on policing.

Melamed is also concerned that this is a case of the provincial government downloading costs on local government.

“The other question to look at is, is this a further trend of downloading policing costs to the municipalities,” he said.

“That is part of the concern. Do we support this trend or is supporting the formation of these new teams supporting a trend that is going to lead to incremental policing costs down the road?”

But B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, John Les, calls that concern, a “tired old song.”

“The only downloading that is occurring is Whistler downloading its costs onto its fellow municipalities because the other municipalities are carrying the can when there is a significant investigation somewhere like Whistler, if they are not integrated with the rest.”

Les believes integrated policing is the future of crime solving. It is more efficient, leads to more cases being closed, and is cheaper in the long run as there is no need to duplicate services in every detachment.

“It is not unusual for a single murder investigation to cost a million dollars and when you are a smaller community a million dollars is big money,” said Les.

Whistler is not alone in the corridor with its concerns about funding IHIT. Squamish recently decided not to put IHIT in its budget but rather to pay for the service if it needed to.

The district, which was asked to contribute $140,000 annually, also had a murder last month. That crime has been estimated to cost over $60,000 for the two days it took to capture the suspect.

“If you have a large level of activity it may make sense to fund this type of unit,” said Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland. “But in our case the need is few and far between and it doesn’t make sense from our point of view to ask our taxpayers to pay $140,000 for a service we might use every third or fourth year.”

But Les believes that view may be trading a short-term gain for long-term pain.

“Squamish needs to recognize that it is part of an integrated world,” said Les. “It is not an island unto itself. It is no longer a mill town on Howe Sound it is part of a much bigger picture. The community is changing. It is part of a large, soon-to-be world-renowned corridor and there are new realities that come with that. We recognize that, we’ve put additional resources into it.

“I think if Squamish looks at it fairly they are not being put upon anymore than they have been in the past.

“It is a question of pooled resources and a more integrated approach. A murder in Squamish might be related to a murder in North Vancouver and if you have an IHIT team that is integrated across those municipal boundaries you are going to stand a chance of getting more effective investigation happening.

“It is a blend of communities having their own local police force, but for serious police issues and major investigations we need a more broad ranging integrated set up.”

Discussions with Squamish are continuing said RCMP Inspector Norm McPhail, who is responsible for corridor policing.

The reality, said McPhail, is that the RCMP will bring in whatever teams it has to in order to solve a crime.

“I have to bring in whatever expertise I will need to solve that case in the most expeditious manner that I can,” he said. “So I will front end load resources to solve that case. It is what is required. It is what the public expects of me, it is what the province expects of me, and so I will call the resources in to handle that case.”

McPhail points to the complexities of today’s cases as an underlying reason why integrated policing is the way of the future.

Not only do serious crimes need specially trained investigators, they use forensic teams, dog teams, air assist teams, and other emergency services to reach a successful conclusion.

For each detachment to contain these services would be prohibitively expensive.

“The complexities of investigations has changed,” said McPhail.

“In policing it is the investigation that in on trial… so we definitely have to put expertise into those cases and the most cost-effective way of doing that is through integrated policing.”

Minister Les agrees: “There is no question that it is more cost effective… (and) it produces better results.”

Both Les and McPhail believe in the long run IHIT will not add significantly to the cost of policing as it will cut down on duplication of services and personnel and small communities will no longer be hit with million dollar bills after a big case.

The Integrated Homicide Investigative Team (IHIT) investigates all homicides within the Lower Mainland. This integrated unit includes experienced homicide investigators and homicide subject experts from all the Lower Mainland RCMP detachments and municipal police departments under one centralized structure.