If the police get robbed, who do they call?
Last week city council mugged the Prince George RCMP for $1.2 million during a budget meeting.
In fairness the RCMP budget still rose by $1 million to $20.4 million this year, and the detachment has averaged an annual $895,885 surplus since 2007.
But a little quick math shows that if the RCMP's surpluses averaged $895,885, then this represents a $304,115 cut to the police budget - after inflationary costs such as wages are factored in.
In a quiet, sleepy town with a crime rate below the national average that might be a reasonable choice to keep the city's bottom line in check. But this is Prince George.
Prince George has held Maclean's magazine's title of Canada's Most Dangerous City for three years running. According to Statistics Canada, the city had a Crime Severity Index of 105 per cent above the national average in 2011 - more than double the amount of crime per capita.
The city's crime rate was at least 50 per cent higher than the provincial average every year from 2001 to 2010.
In 2011, Prince George was in the top five cities in Canada for sexual assaults, breaking and entering, impaired driving and marijuana possession - and in the top 15 for aggravated assaults, robbery and motor vehicle thefts.
Cutting police funding in Prince George is an act of sheer negligent, unjustifiable, ass-backwards stupidity. There is simply no other way to describe a decision which runs contrary to all conceivable logic, sense and ethics.
For the most crime-ridden city in the country to reduce spending on police is equivalent to a nation being invaded deciding to trim its military budget.
Coun. Brian Skakun said the RCMP has council's "full support."
If clawing back money from an already understaffed and overworked police detachment is full support, it's difficult to imagine what partial support would look like.
Prince George's detachment is already small compared to similar-sized cities - Naniamo has an RCMP strength of 135 officers and Kelowna has 148 RCMP officers.
Canada's safest city, Guelph, Ont., with a population of 121,000 people, is served by 195 police officers from the Guelph Police Service.
In his presentation to council, Prince George RCMP Supt. Eric Stubbs said the detachment is contracted to have 128 members, but is effectively funded for 109.
Stubbs said crime reduction measures taken by the police - including the downtown enforcement unit - have proven successful, but he fears losing momentum because of lack of manpower and resources.
The city could use a minimum of five more RCMP officers, he added, and 16 more would still have plenty of work to do.
But instead of manpower, the Prince George RCMP will get meddling - in the form of the Mayor's Task Force on Crime. The task force will include Mayor Shari Green, two city councillors and a handful of other community members.
A quick review of Green and city councillors' biographies reveals not a single one of them has any experience in law enforcement. The closest is Coun. Dave Wilbur, a retired lawyer.
Instead of meddling in areas outside their expertise, council should be challenging Stubbs to better use the detachment's surplus to bring more officers and resources to bear on the city's out-of-control crime problem.
Instead of making the police's job harder, council should be asking what they can do to help the RCMP make the city safer.
And the first step is to plead guilty to some kind of collective, temporary insanity - budget madness - recall the RCMP budget and correct their mistake.
-- Associated news editor Arthur Williams