Back in the mid-2000s, before there was a Wesbrook Place and before UBC had dreams of 50,000 people in its residential villages, the RCMP detachment was happy to get additional staff bringing its numbers to 18 officers.
But 2005 was the last staffing increase the RCMP detachment saw, back when there were about 1,500 people living in Hawthorn Place, Chancellor Place, Hampton Place, back when the East Campus was brand new.
Staff Sgt. Chuck Lan, the detachment’s commanding officer, is reluctant to say how many extra officers he needs to deal with the current population, which has increased tenfold since that last staffing increase.
But, “if we had 10 more officers, that would certainly help us.”
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as adding more officers. The detachment building on Wesbrook Mall is too small even for the current staff. To accommodate more officers and administrative staff would require either extensive renovations or a new building.
There could be some help on the way. Last year, the B.C. government announced a plan to provide $230 million over three years to fill vacancies in rural detachments and hire more officers in specialized police units such as major crimes.
“We’re certainly hopeful that some of that funding announced last year will be coming our way,” Lan told The Campus Resident. “Our senior-level management is working with the province to increase resources.”
And Jen McCutcheon, who represents the campus lands on Metro Vancouver council, says the province is aware of the problems, even if the solutions aren’t simple.
The detachment provides services to the UBC campus, the university neighbourhoods, the University Endowment Lands, and Pacific Spirit Park.
Forces stretched thin
There are now about 15,000 people living in the university neighbourhoods and about 3,200 in the endowment lands. Public safety in those areas is an RCMP responsibility, as it is in Pacific Regional Spirit Park, which gets some 4 million visit a year, making it the busiest park in Metro Vancouver.
But the detachment’s role doesn’t end there. Lan notes that the RCMP spends about 40 percent of its time dealing with issues on the campus. There is UBC campus security, but it is not a police force and isn’t intended to be a police force.
The UBC Campus Vision 2050 plan estimates the campus daytime population at 80,000. By some estimates, counting neighbourhood residents, there are perhaps 100,000 people on the campus lands during the day. That’s about the population of the City of Victoria or Maple Ridge.
The Victoria Police Department, which also serves Esquimalt, has 241 officers for a population across the two municipalities of about 115,000 people. That compares to 18 officers at the university detachment.
Back in 2009, when the campus lands were much less populous, the RCMP, even then, was publicly making the point that, “This commensurate growth has led to an increased demand for police services.”
And below the seemingly tranquil nature of the university neighbourhoods is an undercurrent of criminal activity that keeps the understaffed force busy.
“We border Vancouver and we have similar problems,” Lan says. “We have a myriad of crimes.”
Campus Crime and an Increasing Caseload
In 2022, there were 198 cases of violent criminal code offences against persons, including 30 violent sex offences, 35 cases of extortion, and two kidnappings. Plus a targeted gangland hit at the University Golf Club with three people now facing trial for first-degree murder. Plus 725 property crimes, including 84 fraud cases and 71 cases of break and enter.
The RCMP is also responsible for traffic enforcement, which Lan says can be a serious business. In July and August this year, there were 35 instances with cars impounded and heavy fines for drivers stopped for excess speeds of more than 40 km/hr over the limit. That included one case of someone doing 140 km/hr on Chancellor Boulevard.
Wreck Beach places an extra demand on the force during the warmer months with issues around drug and alcohol use, and violations of the absolute ban on campfires.
In all, Lan says, the detachment’s crime caseload is 44 percent higher than in similarly sized detachments, which are normally rural.
That comparison between the UBC lands and rural areas of the province is part of the problem, for there is little that is rural on the Point Grey peninsula save perhaps the UBC farm. “We get put in the queue with other rural areas,” McCutcheon says.
Governance on the peninsula is complex, and shared between UBC, the UNA, the endowment lands, the province, and Metro Vancouver.
There is, however, no police commission, no elected mayor and council, no formal process to discuss or set policing policy or staffing levels. Nor is there a regular forum for such discussions among the various governance councils on the campus lands —UBC, the UNA, the endowment lands administration, the province, and Metro Vancouver. Issues are discussed separately by the stakeholders on the peninsula and that information is passed on to senior management at E Division, the provincial RCMP headquarters.
Richard Watson, the UNA chair, says the UNA board receives a quarterly report from the RCMP on the policing situation and there are informal discussions when the UNA thinks a situation needs to be addressed. There are also quarterly meetings with UBC’s community and campus planning administration where the UNA has raised policing issues.
But there’s nothing formal, nothing regular, and Watson says he is not sure how effective it would be.
The UNA has supported the detachment’s request for increasing the number of officers. “They do a remarkably good job but there are times when they could have an increase in presence,” Watson said.
McCutcheon says the increasing population adds to the complications. “As the UNA grows, and grows at the rate planned, there are a number of issues that would be handled by a municipality,” she says.
“That’s something we’re all going to have to keep an eye on.”
However, for residents of the campus lands going about their lives and confronted with an emergency, a crime in progress or an imminent danger, it’s simple: call 9-1-1.