By Cornelia Naylor / Burnaby Now, May 24, 2018
Bike cops: Members of the Burnaby RCMP bike squad at Central Park. Photograph By NOW FILES
Local parks will gain four civilian bylaw officers on bikes this summer, but they’ll lose seven RCMP bike cops because of a shortage of police resources, according to Burnaby’s top cop.
Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh, the officer in charge of the Burnaby RCMP detachment, told the city’s public safety committee last Tuesday the detachment was pulling the plug on the bike squad this year.
“The bike squad is a really effective policing enforcement tool. Unfortunately, this summer the decision was made not to stand up the bike squad,” she said, “so there will be no RCMP bike squad, and that’s due to resourcing pressures in the need to respond to calls for service on the front line.”
The bike squad had been made up of general duty officers, Burleigh explained.
After looking at the detachment’s calls-for-service stats, she said she had to make the “difficult decision” not to commit general duty resources to the squad.
“We have to have the resources for front-line policing priority call response,” she told the NOW, “and I want to be able to have the resources on the ground to be able to respond to 911. That’s the number 1 priority.”
Committee member David Pereira, a space management planner at BCIT, recalled sitting in on a presentation from the RCMP a couple years ago lauding the benefits of the bike squad.
“It seemed like a really great thing, and I think council was very supportive of it,” he told the NOW.
Chief Supt. Stephan Drolet, Burnaby’s former officer in charge, launched a six-month bike squad pilot in May 2016.
“I have received much positive feedback on their activities, their approachableness as well as their ability to get in to places such as the many parks and greenspaces in our city,” he said in a report to the committee in 2016.
Burnaby RCMP ramped up patrols, including bike patrols, in Central Park after the murder of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen last July.
After that event, the city announced it would beef up security measures in the park, including adding bike patrols.
The city has since hired two women and two men to ride around the city’s parks and other public spaces, enforcing bylaws and reporting crime and suspicious activity to police.
City officials have said the measures had been in the works since before Shen’s death but that the tragedy had accelerated the initiatives.
The civilian bike patrol began its one-year $334,000 pilot this weekend and will work staggered shifts seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 1 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
The unit will be equipped with cellphones and empowered to enforce bylaw offences ranging from animal control to smoking in parks during a fire ban.
Pereira, however, doesn’t think the four bylaw officers are an adequate substitute for seven RCMP officers.
“Bylaw enforcement, that’s just regular citizens going through and enforcing bylaws,” he said. “They certainly don’t have the presence or the ability of a police officer on a bike.”
Burleigh seconded the distinction between the two units.
“They’re enforcing bylaws, not Criminal Code or Motor Vehicle Act or other statutes,” she said.
When asked what it would take for the detachment to reinstate the bike squad, Burleigh’s response was straight to the point.
“Additional resources,” she said.
Burnaby’s public safety director, Dave Critchley, a former officer in charge of the Burnaby RCMP detachment, said he and council would like to see the RCMP bike squad continue, but it is ultimately up to the OIC to deploy the detachment’s resources.
Critchley said comparing the civilian bike patrol and RCMP bike squad was “mixing apples and oranges.”
“In my role, what I can talk to is the bike program as it relates to bylaws, and I can say that that program is being initiated in a pilot to determine and increase, enhance our safety in public spaces.”
When asked whether local parks would be safer on balance with bylaw officers on bikes or RCMP members, Critchley said:
“I can’t speak to whether it’s equitable, better, worse. That would be inappropriate for me to comment on.”
As to whether the RCMP is adequately resourced, the public safety director said that was part of ongoing discussions between the city and the detachment.
“The RCMP is one department like the rest of our departments within the city, and that’s part of the annual budgeting process,” he said.