Upcoming changes to BC RCMP’s Highway Patrol (BCHP) could draw resources away from local detachments and police forces in the Lower Mainland.
Starting in September, BCHP-Burnaby and BCHP-Chilliwack will stop attending traffic-related calls on highways that include collisions and erratic drivers. Highway patrol will shift its focus to expand its proactive traffic enforcement, such as impaired driving investigations and tickets.
According to BCHP, all traffic-related calls for service on provincial highways within municipal boundaries will be a municipal responsibility, including all fatal collisions.
A host of communities will be impacted by the changes, including Mission, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Hope, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley, North Vancouver, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Richmond, Surrey, Delta, Harrison Hot Springs and the Fraser Valley Regional District.
Mission Mayor Paul Horn says the change has left communities throughout the Lower Mainland concerned.
“Once that ability for highway enforcement to come and attend to accident scenes goes away, we’re going to have to pull them off of the streets of cities to go and deal with those issues,” Horn said.
The Fraser Valley Regional District wrote a letter to Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth criticizing the lack of engagement with municipalities. At their last council meeting (June 5), the City of Mission also voted unanimously to write a similar letter to Farnworth.
The RCMP says BCHP-Burnaby and BCHP-Chilliwack have been responding to traffic-related calls on provincial highways in the Lower Mainland for at least 12 years.
However, BCHP says those calls are not part of its mandate, which has been in place for at least 30 years. With a mandate focused on proactive enforcement, they say it’s not clear how the response to traffic-related calls developed.
“This service delivery model has ultimately resulted in the operations of BCHP being misaligned with the Police Act and BCHP’s mandate,” the BCHP said in a statement. “Specifically, BCHP-Burnaby and BCHP-Chilliwack are the only BCHP units in the province that are currently responding to traffic-related calls for service on provincial highways.”
Horn says the BCHP’s response to traffic-related calls is clearly something that cities have been depending on.
“If it’s been going on for 12 years, that creates a reasonable expectation by communities that service should be continued,” Horn said.
The change could also prove costly for municipalities. Horn says expensive new items such as body armour, body cameras, or new firearms can provide value, but the upcoming changes are different.
“It’s still going to cost us more as municipalities but we’re reducing service,” Horn said. “What we are potentially doing here is having to spend our local members’ time on more of our provincial highways.”
BCHP anticipates a reduction in collisions and traffic-related calls due to the larger focus on intelligence-led and strategic proactive traffic enforcement.
“While we recognize that impacted municipalities have concerns about this realignment, we believe that there will be some significant benefits realized through this process,” the BCHP statement reads.
The process of making the changes has taken over two years. The changes were approved in February 2023 and are set to begin in September.
Highway patrol says it has engaged and communicated with police forces and municipalities through meetings, discussions and documentation with details on the changes.
“Part of what we as cities have said and the Regional District has said is giving us notice does not equate to consultation,” Horn said.
Horn says it’s important for Mission to continue to advocate to the province for a slower roll-out process.
“The letter here suggested it’s already a done deal,” Horn said. “Quite frankly, I don’t think that’s acceptable. I think that at the very least we should be going back and reviewing what this looks like in the future.”
Calls taken by BCHP-Burnaby and BCHP-Chilliwack between now and Aug. 31 will remain with highway patrol until the changes come into effect on Sept. 1.
BCHP says it will still be conducting proactive traffic enforcement on provincial highways throughout the Lower Mainland and will be available to assist local police when they can.