RDN scrutiny reveals QB paying too much for RCMP services?

February 24, 2023 – In an Explainer published last month, we reviewed how one of our most important public services — law enforcement — is to be managed, according to statute, contractual obligation, and expected norms of transparency to the tax-paying public being served.

It appears that both the Town of Qualicum Beach and its contracted law enforcement agency (Oceanside RCMP) are falling short in their obligations to residents and taxpayers.

Oceanside RCMP are responsible for law enforcement across the north half of the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) including not only Parksville and Qualicum Beach but also Electoral Areas E, F, G and H.

“Initially I was under the impression that this was going to be in camera,” said Commanding Officer De Coene, “so I’m going to brush over some of the staffing numbers and some of the ODS [odious?] stuff because it’s just not for public consumption.”

It turns out that a few Directors for the RDN also have concerns.

At the RDN Board meeting on January 10, 2023, a Motion by Electoral Area E (Nanoose) Director Bob Rogers requesting that RCMP appear before the Board engendered confusion and debate, and revealed a couple of surprising holes in the Board’s oversight of law enforcement services.

RDN Director Rogers’ Motion was “That the Regional District of Nanaimo Board extend an invitation to Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sergeant Travis De Coene, Officer in Command of the Oceanside Detachment to make an invited presentation to the Board at the January 24, 2023 meeting.

In the ensuing discussion, RDN Board Chair Vanessa Craig, ostensibly the “CEO” responsible for the RDN’s contract with the RCMP, apparently did not know whether there was already a routinely scheduled “invitation” or not.

Even the RDN’s Chief Administrative Officer, Douglas Holmes, admitted that he too wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen when, a startling admission that there is little or no active accountability for or oversight of law enforcement services in the RDN either.

City of Nanaimo serves as an example of good governance

RDN Director Sheryl Armstrong (City of Nanaimo Councillor) came to their rescue.

It is not surprising that Ms. Armstrong knows the drill off the top of her head. As we pointed out in our January Explainer, Local Law Enforcement Accountability, there is a stark contrast between the transparency of the City of Nanaimo Police Department (also staffed by contracted RCMP officers), as compared to the opacity of the Oceanside RCMP and the lack of Town Council or Administration accountability for law enforcement in Qualicum Beach.

Director Armstrong explained: “They [RCMP Detachment Commander] are supposed to come quarterly. That’s in the contract.”

“They [RCMP] are supposed to present their annual performance plan to us, as well as quarterly updates. It just hasn’t been pushed recently; I think because of Covid. We just need to ask them to follow through with their contractual obligation,” stated Armstrong.

Director Rogers added: “It is important for the Electoral Area Directors to have some correspondence and some opportunity to hear from the Commanding Officers from both [Oceanside and Nanaimo] detachments on a regular basis.” [The Nanaimo RCMP detachment provides the law enforcement officers contracted to serve RDN Electoral Areas A, B and C.]

Two weeks later they made it happen.

At the Board’s January 24, 2023 meeting, Oceanside RCMP Detachment Commanding Officer Travis De Coene presented a quarterly update for October thru December 2022. De Coene’s presentation was illuminating, but it exposed a skewed allocation of services.

The RCMP’s aversion to transparency

De Coene’s lead-off statement was a telling indicator that the RCMP’s culture of obfuscation and secrecy, perpetually making news headlines across the country, is embedded in the RCMP DNA from head cop Commissioner Brenda Lucki (who is being retired on March 17, 2023) right down to beat cops in small communities like ours.

“Initially I was under the impression that this was going to be in camera,” said Commanding Officer De Coene, “so I’m going to brush over some of the staffing numbers and some of the ODS [odious?] stuff because it’s just not for public consumption.”

De Coene’s discomfort with public visibility was painful to watch. Later during the presentation to the RDN Board, he stated “We’re on camera so I can’t really get into the nitty-gritty.”

What exactly would a behind-closed-doors meeting between De Coene and whomever is supposed to be overseeing delivery of our municipal law enforcement services reveal that can’t be shared with the public?

Are Qualicum Beach taxpayers getting ripped off?

Maybe Oceanside RCMP Commanding Officer De Coene was uncomfortable with having to try (unsuccessfully) to explain why Parksville and Qualicum Beach are paying two thirds of the RCMP bill but only account for one half of the service calls.

De Coene’s presentation to the RDN Board certainly raised our eyebrows. Let’s examine a couple of his slides.

Agenda item 5.1, slides appear .. at 2 min 18 sec mark of the video.

Two concerns readily become evident.

First, the RCMP does not account for their workload distribution.

Any organization that operates a shared pool of service providers and then distributes the aggregate costs to multiple payors should have a reliable workload measurement and cost accounting system that clearly and specifically identifies what costs are allocated to whom, and for what specific services.

This is standard management practice, but it apparently has not been instituted in our contracting of law enforcement services from the RCMP.

Second, notice that Parksville and Qualicum Beach are allocated a total of 25 uniformed positions, and 13 additional positions are allocated to law enforcement in Electoral Areas in the north district of the RDN.

The data provided by De Coene reveal that Parksville and Qualicum Beach are footing the bill for 66% of the RCMP (25 of the 38 uniformed positions) but that these municipalities generate only 51% of the calls for service. “Service Breakdown” indeed.

Strikingly, this information did not evoke a whimper or even a question from any RDN Director. Not even from Director Teunis Westbroek (Qualicum Beach) or from Directors Sean Wood and Joel Grenz (Parksville) whose taxpayers are apparently footing the bill for law enforcement services elsewhere in the region.

How long have Qualicum Beach taxpayers been over-paying the RCMP?

A year ago, on February 23, 2022, acting RCMP Detachment Commander Shane Worth attended a QB Town Council meeting as a Delegation to present his quarterly report for October thru December 2021. Then-Mayor Brian Wiese gave him five minutes.

Worth had prepared slides, and came in-person to Council chambers, but Town staff did not display his slides.

Worth asked if Council members (each attended by Zoom) had a copy of the slides in front of them. Wiese replied “No, we don’t.” Later in his presentation, as Sergeant Worth recited a ream of statistics he repeated, “I wish you had this [the slides] in front of you.”

The entire Town Council appeared to be unconcerned about their lack of documented evidence of the RCMP’s provision of services. That is, until then-Councillor Teunis Westbroek asked: “How does the number of calls received by the RCMP affect our [Qualicum Beach] fee-for-service?”

In his presentation, Worth stated that, of the 13,817 service calls received by the Oceanside RCMP Detachment year-to-date, 1,308 came from Qualicum Beach. That amounts to 9.5% of the total calls.

So, our Town Council and Administration knew, at least a year ago or more, that QB taxpayers were paying for 21% of the Oceanside RCMP officers (8 of 38), and yet only generated 9.5% of the service calls.

In response to then-Councillor Westbroek’s question, Worth explained that of the 38 uniformed officers, the City of Parksville were paying for 17 officers and the Town of Qualicum Beach for 8 officers. These numbers jibe with the numbers provided to the RDN Board a year later by De Coene — except that De Coene did not show the municipal service call split between Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

So, our Town Council and Administration knew, at least a year ago or more, that QB taxpayers were paying for 21% of the Oceanside RCMP officers (8 of 38), and yet only generated 9.5% of the service calls.

Not one other Council member, including then-Mayor Brian Wiese, said a peep.

Qualicum Beach pays more than $1.5 million per year for “RCMP Police Protection.” Maybe it should pay half of that?

Here’s a simple question that reflects a serious issue about value-for-money, which we rely on our municipal staff and elected representatives to ensure:  When an Oceanside RCMP Officer pulls over a speeder on the Inland Highway (a provincial highway), are Qualicum Beach taxpayers paying for this law enforcement activity that the provincial government ought to be paying for?

Or, is this just another example of the provincial government attempting to download additional services and costs onto municipal governments and taxpayers? Speaking of which …

QB Mayor Westbroek votes to support downloading of parking law enforcement onto municipalities

Near the end of the RDN Board meeting on January 24, 2023 was an RDN staff recommendation to submit the following resolution to the AVICC (Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities) for consideration at its upcoming annual convention in mid-April:

“WHEREAS regional districts have not been granted the authority to regulate vehicle parking on roadways in rural areas;
AND WHEREAS the Province and the RCMP have limited resources to regulate and enforce the increased volume of vehicles parked illegally on roads and rights-of-way that cause congestion and unsafe conditions for other vehicles, pedestrians and emergency first responders:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia grant regional districts the authority under the BC Motor Vehicle Act to regulate and enforce vehicle parking on provincial roads and rights-of-way with the same authority as municipalities.”

In the report supporting their recommendation, RDN staff acknowledge that “Parking enforcement is outside the jurisdiction of regional districts, as provincial/rural roads fall under the authority of the Province of BC” and that “the RCMP has jurisdiction to enforce the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) relating to parking. However, this is not a high priority for the police, given other priorities and pressures.”

In other words, neither the province nor the RCMP are doing their job adequately.

So the RDN staff shrug and suggest, well, let’s ask permission to do it ourselves. This appears to be a costly, unwarranted, and unreasonable, dare we say absurd, solution to the Province and RCMP’s dereliction of their policing duties.

Having the Provincial Government unilaterally downloading services and costs onto municipalities is one thing. But municipal staff volunteering (using our tax dollars) to take on and pay for work the Province is obliged to do is truly bizarre.

Believe it or not, the above resolution actually passed, but by the narrowest margin 10 to 9.

All of the RDN Directors north of Nanoose, except one, voted against the idea (Salter, Wallace, McLean, Wood, Grenz). The lone exception: Director Teunis Westbroek, Mayor of Qualicum Beach.