(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 20, 2002)

 

Justice has financial limits

By Leo Knight

THE issue of dollars and cents is about to become critical in the missing women investigation in a number of ways.

 

In real terms, I'm told, the first month of the full-blown crime scene investigation at the Port Coquitlam pig farm owned by the Pickton brothers, has cost about $700,000. That number does not factor in the costs of the broader investigation since the task force was formed and began firing on all cylinders.

 

With no end in sight, this investigation is very likely going to be the most expensive investigation ever undertaken in British Columbia. So far, the costs are being jointly borne by the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). Although, if this goes on too much longer, there will certainly be a movement within the police executive to seek special funding lest service delivery begins to suffer at the street level.

 

The Vancouver Sun ratcheted up the temperature on the weekend with a front-page story containing comments from former VPD members Kim Rossmo and Doug MacKay-Dunn. Both Rossmo and MacKay-Dunn indicated they had called for a more thorough investigation back in 1997 and again in 1999.

 

While they both, I'm sure, made salient arguments for the launch of a major investigation in the matter, the decision was made by senior management to wait. And it is this decision, which had been revisited on several occasions I'm sure, that is causing the furor. In the end, the question will be: Would any of the missing women still be alive had the police begun a major, full-blown inquiry into the missing women earlier?

 

It is, of course, impossible to say whether that question can be answered with any degree of certainty. But it certainly seems likely that no small amount of effort and money will be spent trying to pin the blame on someone. Liberal MLA Tony Bhullar has called for a public inquiry. One must question his motives since he is currently facing an obstruction charge filed by Vancouver Police. In this case, all a public inquiry will accomplish can already be determined. Yes, there was some reason to believe there was a pattern in the disappearance of so many prostitutes from the Downtown Eastside. No, there were no crime scenes or any other evidence which would have provided a starting point. Yes, there were individuals within the police department who were suggesting a major investigation be launched, including others who have yet to speak publicly.

 

No, the senior management were not prepared to authorize the requisite money be allocated without something more known about the disappearances.

 

Yes, it was the decision of the Major Crimes Squad inspector to make the call. Was he right? Well, it all depends on where you sit, I suppose. Police budgets are not fluid. The police department is typically in the top three, in terms of budget size, for any municipality. Local government is prevented, by law, from running deficit budgets. The police must conduct their affairs within the allocated resources. Someone has to make decisions such as this with an eye on the bottom line. That is as it should be.

 

The question then becomes, is the allotted money sufficient for the job we are asking to be done? And this is where all the trouble comes.

 

Families of victims will always say no to that question. Senior governments will always say yes. Police managers try to sell budget increases for new programs and positions, but the reality of the public purse is always the primary factor.

 

For example, last year VPD were given an increase of 30 positions. But this really isn't enough. There are 89 or so, positions being filled that simply didn't exist eight or 10 years ago. The Criminal Harassment unit and Sex Offence squad are two such examples.

 

The manpower comes from the patrol division leaving uniformed squads short-handed. These are the people who answer your calls for help.

 

The problem is exacerbated by the need to recruit sufficient resources to cover attrition. Then there's the cost of about $100,000, I'm told, to produce a fully-trained and ready police officer.

 

There are few, if any, jurisdictions in the Lower Mainland where police will attend minor MVAs or vehicle break-ins. In Vancouver and Surrey, they won't even attend most residential break-ins, so stretched are their manpower resources.

 

The problem has been steadily growing for the past 15 or so years. It has been reaching crescendo in the last couple.

 

It was within the confines of all of these factors, and I have only scratched the surface, that someone in the VPD made the conscious decision to wait for some evidence in the missing women case.

 

And that is what any public inquiry will find. That, and the identity of the individual who made the call so the media can have their scapegoat.

 

Justice has a price. And, as long as that price has a ceiling, someone has to make difficult decisions.

 

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