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MLA Morris supports proposal to form provincial police force

Public safety critic welcomes call to form a new B.C. police service
Mike Morris
Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris

Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris is expressing support for creation of a new provincial police service and hopes his proposal for a "three tier approach to public safety" is taken into account as the details are fleshed out.

The final report of Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act was made public last week and among its recommendations was one to establish a "new provincial police service take over services formerly contracted to the RCMP."

"The Committee emphasized that transitioning to a provincial police service is not a reflection on the work of individual RCMP officers; rather, it is a reflection of the challenges with governance and accountability with the current federal model," the committee added in the report.

Morris said Monday he's in favour of an integrated police service. 

"We have 64 municipal contracts with the RCMP and all of those individual contracts are administered by the municipalities more or less. We have 11 independent police forces, we have federal policing, we have provincial policing and so there are a lot of fingers in the pie when it comes to providing not direction so much as providing a strategic focus on different things," Morris said in an interview.

In September 2020, Morris stepped down from the committee, saying at the time that he was limited in what he could say and the ideas he could proffer. In the aftermath, he submitted a proposal for a "three-tier" approach to policing and public safety in the province, made up of criminal investigation officers, public safety officers and community safety officers.

Made up of armed uniformed and plain clothes officers, the criminal investigation officers would concentrate on stemming the activities of prolific and dangerous criminals. Morris said that tier should be under the auspices of the provincial government "because those resources need to be nimble enough to attack crime wherever it happens in the province."

In the submission, Morris suggested his proposal would improve the chances of police achieving "perfect investigations" that would increase the likelihood of charge approval by Crown prosecutors and of conviction. 

Public safety officers, in turn, would be unarmed but uniformed and would have special skills to de-escalate incidents related to mental health or addictions, as well as children and family matters. They would "work with different agencies so that they can get that wrap-around help that people need," Morris said Monday. 

A third "entry-level" tier of community safety officers, also unarmed but uniformed, with qualifications much the same as those at private security companies would provide "high visibility street-level security patrols, citizen wellness and property checks."

In 2018, the cost of policing in B.C. totalled nearly $2 billion with municipalities footing $1.3 billion of the bill, the province $408 million and the federal government $246 million, according to Morris' submission. 

The cost has likely gone up since then in part because of a new contract with the RCMP that sees a significant jump in salary. In its 2022 budget, the City of Prince George has allocated nearly $31 million for policing, compared to an actual of $24.8 million in 2017.

Morris said his proposal likely would not reduce the burden on taxpayers "but at the end of the day, taxpayers would get a lot bigger bang for their buck and we'd have less problems on the street."

The committee's final report was issued five days after the Opposition BC Liberals released a letter from the B.C. Urban Mayors Caucus, which includes Prince George mayor Lyn Hall, outlining concerns about the province's "catch and release" justice system and the trouble they are having with prolific offenders.

Morris, who was the Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister when the BC Liberals formed the government and currently fills the critic role for the portfolio, said "all governments have done a poor job" when it comes to providing supports for people with mental health and addiction issues.

"That infrastructure isn't there," he said. 

Before going into politics, Morris had a 32-year career in the RCMP before retiring in 2005 as superintendent for the North District.