The issue of crime is always a political football – no matter what level of government you are looking at.
In the 2018 Burnaby civic election, crime was a hot-button topic for months as Derek Corrigan and Mike Hurley argued over such things as putting cameras in Central Park.
But months before the campaign switched into top gear, a low-key game of chicken was being played out between Burnaby council and the Burnaby RCMP.
Last May, Chief Superintendent Deanne Burleigh, citing a lack of resources, pulled the plug on the detachment’s bike patrol. According to new Mayor Mike Hurley, the Burnaby RCMP detachment has been understaffed for a decade.
Cancelling the bike patrol put a lot of pressure on Corrigan that close to an election. The city responded with the announcement of a civilian bike patrol pilot project – a far cry from actual police officers.
As David Pereira, a member of the city’s public safety committee, pointed out, four civilians are nothing compared to seven police officers.
“Bylaw enforcement, that’s just regular citizens going through and enforcing bylaws,” he said at the time. “They certainly don’t have the presence or the ability of a police officer on a bike.”
Burleigh seconded the distinction between the two units.
“They’re enforcing bylaws, not Criminal Code or Motor Vehicle Act or other statutes,” she said at the time.
Eventually, the city blinked.
Shortly before the municipal election last October (how convenient!), council under former mayor Derek Corrigan suddenly announced it was adding eight more officers to the local force in 2018 and another six in 2019. (Hurley has since upped that total number to 20 new officers.)
The bike patrol has since been activated again, which brings us to last week when cycling RCMP officers were on patrol at Northgate Village mall when they saw a scuffle due to a shoplifting incident.
Police soon discovered that a man they detained had outstanding warrants for assault with a weapon and for failing to comply with a probation order. He now faces additional charges for assault, aiding and abetting theft, obstructing a peace officer and possession of property obtained by crime.
This is the kind of on-the-ground patrols that make bike squads so important. Bike patrol officers are able to zig-zag around high-crime areas relatively unnoticed.
And to think we might have lost this policing unit forever. All because of politics.
-with additional reporting by Cornelia Naylor