(This column was published in the North Shore News on June 12, 2002)

 

Later bar hours bad for police business

 By Leo Knight

LAST week's peek at the changes made to the provincial liquor legislation examined how the Liberals stopped short of where they should have in a part of their new law.

 

This week, I am going to look at the other side of the coin where they may have taken things past what was appropriate.

 

To consider where they might have gone too far, let's look at opening hours. It used to be that most licensees could open any consecutive 14 hours between 9 a.m. and 2 a.m. The new act allows opening hours until 4 a.m. with an additional hour drinking up time as opposed to the half hour previously allowed. That is an additional 21/2 hours that the police have to look after the partying animals.

 

Now, at my age, extending the opening hours doesn't affect my social life one iota. But my concern is for the already thinly stretched resources of the police.

 

Consider, in Vancouver, the police arrange their manpower deployment in squads with staggered starting times on 11-hour shifts.

 

Current closing times at 2 a.m. meant that by 4 a.m., Vancouver Police Department (VPD) manpower allotments were at their smallest deployment.

 

Obviously that will have to change.

 

The dynamic in Vancouver is such that it is the entertainment centre. For pro sports, the theatre, classical performances, galleries, concerts and a great many of the things that make this city special. People come in from all the neighbouring municipalities to partake in the variety of Vancouver life, especially the night life. Obviously the new rules will affect Vancou-ver in a way that Port Moody or Delta police will barely notice.

 

To a lesser degree, the same scenario exists for North Vancouver Mounties. West Vancouver has fewer pubs than North Vancouver. There is a distinct west to east direction in the entertainment dollar on the North Shore.

 

Where things become more difficult for the Mounties is in their type of scheduling. The RCMP utilize the "watch" system whereby the same crew of officers work a compressed week consisting of 12-hour shifts, four on and four off. In other words, there are as many police officers patroll-ing the streets at three in the afternoon as there are at three in the morning.

 

The Mounties are not geared for the new opening hours announced by the government. For them, it likely means that patrol officers will be taking calls longer into the night and have less time to handle that necessary evil, paperwork.

 

Likely this will translate into police officers spending more of their own time trying to catch up on their files instead of taking that time off to recharge.

 

Were things only that simple for VPD management. They are looking at a complete re-think at how they deploy their manpower. Current levels which, I should add, are already at what are called, "minimums."

 

For example, suppose a squad has an authorized strength of 12 constables and one sergeant.

 

The "minimum" might be set at eight constables and one sergeant, meaning that only four officers can be off at any given time for holidays, sick time, training courses or other types of leave.

 

So, in other words, most VPD squads are already at their "minimums" on a permanent basis pending an all-out recruiting drive. One needs only to drive by 2120 Cambie, VPD headquarters, to see the recruiting banners hanging off all sides of the building to see the desperation.

 

Which brings me back to the new liquor legislation changes.

 

VPD officers have precious little time in patrol to do anything else but respond to "calls for service."

 

Being proactive is but a pipe dream for those so inclined.

 

With that as a given, where are the extra officers going to come from to deal with an additional 21/2 hours of opening time tacked on the end of a night shift?

 

The provincial government has off-loaded the responsibility to local government to decide whether to allow the various changes in their jurisdictions. To a degree, that is the right thing to do.

 

But while that may solve the problem in North Vancouver City or North Vancouver District, it seems highly unlikely Vancouver council could do anything but acquiesce in allowing the later opening hours.

 

After all, Vancouver is the night-life centre. The Big Smoke, such as it is.

 

Without question the province's liquor act desperately needed upgrading to get in line with the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

 

But despite the best intentions, the Campbell government's initiatives in this area may have an unwanted, adverse affect on policing.

 

Let's hope I'm wrong.

 

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