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Top cop quiet on effect of traffic budget cuts

Aug 15 2012
Chris Foord, chair of the CRD traffic safety commission, wants an audit justifying the cuts. 

Chris Foord, chair of the CRD traffic safety commission, wants an audit justifying the cuts.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com (August 2012)

B.C.'s top RCMP traffic cop is defending cuts to the integrated traffic safety budget but won't comment on whether the roads will become more dangerous as a result.

The budget per officer for the province's 19 Integrated Road Safety Units was this year reduced to $15,000 from $30,000 to trim overtime costs.

The RCMP would not provide the exact number of officers seconded to IRSU units, but E Division Traffic Services Supt. Denis Boucher said it was approximately 200.

Boucher said the cuts, which would save $2.4 million, were needed to offset the cost of additional officers brought in to fill vacancies in 2011 and to account for increased operating costs such as pay raises of 1.5 per cent.

The cuts do not mean fewer officers would be seconded to the 19 IRSU units across the province. However, when three officers set up a roadblock on a weekend or holiday, for example, the staff sergeant won't be able to call in extra traffic members to work on overtime.

But Staff Sgt. Frank Wright, the Saanich officer who heads the Capital Regional District's IRSU team, said last week it would be impossible to set up the same number of roadblocks with half the funds.

"The number of impaired [drivers] we're able to take off the road will go down," Wright said. "It can't help but go down. And that negatively impacts road safety in my jurisdiction."

Boucher would not say whether he thought the cuts would affect traffic safety in reducing the number of drunk drivers and speeders police are able to take off the road.

"I don't know that right now," Boucher said, adding he would be monitoring the collision rate to look for any changes.

Boucher said it would be up to the staff sergeants leading the traffic units to strategically place traffic cops at areas where they will have the most effect.

"I've asked my managers to make sure they're doing enforcement at the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons," he said.

Chris Foord, chairman of the CRD's traffic safety commission, criticized the cuts and said he wanted to see an audit by the RCMP to justify the move.

"I want to make darn sure the money is going to fund officers on the road," he said.

Foord also wants a straight answer as to how many traffic cops are working in each IRSU team across the province.

"What everybody wants to know here is what's the actual number of officers available in IRSU?"

He suspects there are many vacant spots because the RCMP is "plucking people from IRSU units to other areas they deem more important."

The region's 15-member traffic team is made up of seconded officers from municipal detachments and the RCMP and uses targeted enforcement to stop drunk drivers, speeders, distracted drivers and unsafe vehicles.

The provincial government has praised the program at being cost-effective and successful in reducing crashes at the most dangerous intersections and taking drunk drivers off the road.

According to a Ministry of Public Safety report, the province spent $1.4 million on the local unit in 2006, and collected $1.9 million in ticket revenue and $657,000 in driver penalty-point premiums. The number of crashes at the capital region's 15 worst intersections went down nine per cent compared to 2000-2004.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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