B.C. community's population growth leads to staggering increase in policing costs

The District of Lake Country, B.C.,  tries to figure out how to pay for police services after it reached a population of 15,000. (The Lakes Community Association - image credit)
The District of Lake Country, B.C., tries to figure out how to pay for police services after it reached a population of 15,000. (The Lakes Community Association - image credit)

A small community in B.C.'s Central Okanagan is under pressure to increase spending on police services due to population growth.

At its regular Tuesday meeting Tuesday, council for Lake Country — situated immediately north of Kelowna — discussed district staff's proposal to raise policing costs by 50 per cent, from $2.52 million in 2022 to $3.79 million in 2023, after the municipality surpassed 15,000 residents.

B.C.'s Police Act requires the province to pay for policing in communities with a population under 5,000, but larger communities must either establish their own municipal police force or sign a contract with the province for RCMP services.

Police services agreements made between provincial and municipal governments require municipalities with a population between 5,000 and 15,000 to pay 70 per cent of the cost for RCMP services and those with a population of more than 15,000 to pay 90 per cent.

Lake Country's RCMP detachment falls under the umbrella of the regional detachment based in Kelowna, Canada's fastest-growing metropolitan area. The latest census data shows that Lake Country's population has surged 22 per cent over the past five years to 15,817.

Winston Szeto/CBC
Winston Szeto/CBC

Rising cost of policing

Lake Country's corporate services director, Reyna Seabrook, says the policing contract permits the municipality's RCMP detachment to hire one additonal officer this year, based on the force's projected population growth, adding to a total authorized staff size of 19 full-time officers.

Seabrook says under the 70 per cent cost-sharing agreement, the District of Lake Country paid $2.52 million for 18 officers but starting this year, it will have to pay $3.79 million for 19 officers, under the 90 per cent cost-sharing agreement.

The policing cost — including money spent on building a larger detachment office — is forecast to grow, she said.

"After assumptions on growth and cost escalations and assuming a plan of phasing in contracted strength to 24 [full-time officers] by 2027, the total RCMP contract cost escalates to $5.39 million in 2027.

"This represents over $2.87 million in additional costs annually compared to 2022," she said in a written memo presented to council.

'A very large bill'

Mayor Blair Ireland admits it is "a very large bill to pay" and says the increased policing cost will show up on property taxes paid by local homeowners.

"I'm pretty sure that it will," he told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South, adding council will delay the budgetary process to make sure the public understands the issues at stake.

The district staff memo also proposes that Lake Country could consider separating its RCMP detachment from the Kelowna regional detachment or establishing its own municipal police force and paying for 100 per cent of its policing costs.

But Ireland says it's unlikely.

"We are not considering municipal police service at this time … it's extremely expensive."

Kash Heed, a former chief of the West Vancouver Police Department and former solicitor general, agrees that Lake Country doesn't need its own municipal police service.

"I don't think it's plausible that you can move to an independent municipal [police force] —  especially in a smaller area where you're just over 15,000 in population —  without costing the taxpayers a significant amount of money."

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

But Heed says the cost-sharing agreement isn't necessarily a better deal for Lake Country, pointing out the detachment had vacancies equivalent to four full-time RCMP officers in 2022.

"If those [vacancies] are still being paid by the taxpayers, you have to wonder why," he said.

"Those are some of the questions that have to be asked to make sure you have an accountable police service as efficient as possible in your community."