The independent agency that deals with complaints against the RCMP is closing its B.C. intake office in Surrey in order to cut costs and centralize staff in Ottawa.
The move by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP has sparked criticism that police oversight could falter.
“B.C. was not consulted on this decision,” B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said in a statement. “We’ll be watching to ensure there is no reduction in service, as we are the largest RCMP jurisdiction and we expect the commission and the federal government to be accountable to British Columbians.”
The RCMP’s E Division has 7,100 officers policing B.C. That’s 37 per cent of all RCMP officers across Canada and more than are deployed in any other province.
About 3,600 inquiries or formal complaints are lodged against the RCMP nation-wide each year.
The office in Surrey will close by the end of the year and money saved will fund more investigations, officials say.
“We’re trying to redirect some of our resources to make sure they’re properly used to address the concerns Canadians have,” commission spokesperson Kate McDerby said.
The new agency took over from the former Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP in late 2014, with an expanded mandate.
Besides responding to complaints involving officers it also monitors wider trends and developments in RCMP policy and practice.
Former commission chair Shirley Heafey said the office was first set up in recognition that the high proportion of officers in B.C. made a presence in the province “extremely important.”
She said she’s not confident the agency will be as responsive after it’s gone.
“I find it very, very sad,” said Heafey, who was with the commission for eight years until 2007. “I don’t know exactly who made the decision, but it’s a bad one.”
Heafey said the Surrey office staff were highly effective at organizing face-to-face mediation to resolve complaints quickly and at less cost than an investigation that can last two years.
“Usually when they sit down and talk to each other things can be resolved,” Heafey said, estimating 800 complaints a year were resolved that way.
“Otherwise these complaints hang over the police officer’s head for a long time and the complainant is waiting and waiting.”
McDerby said the Surrey office took in complaints from across the country – not just B.C. – but does not conduct any investigations itself and has not been involved in any mediation in recent years.
Incoming complaints are initially sent to the RCMP for investigation and commission staff only looks into them further if the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome, she said.
Many complaints are now filed online rather than by phone, McDerby added.
Closing the Surrey office won’t change how complaints against officers in B.C. are made or processed, she added.
McDerby was unable to say how much money will be saved by closing the Surrey office. Eight full-time staff there are mostly retiring or leaving voluntarily.
The commission’s goal is to increase public confidence in the RCMP by increasing transparency and accountability. Its annual budget is $11.4 million.
Most common complaint types
Attitude other than abusive language – 20 %
Criminal investigation quality (RCMP) – 18 %
Improper arrest – 9 %
Police physical abuse (other than restraints) – 6 %
Vehicular incidents – 6 %
Detention – 5 %
Search and seizure – 4 %
Incidents involving alcohol/drugs – 3 %
Public complaint process quality (RCMP) – 3 %
Property mishandling – 3 %
Source: Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP