The B.C. government is cutting $2.8-million from the budget of the anti-gang police agency that combines the efforts of 14 forces across British Columbia.
The cuts are part of an austerity drive that will also see $1.4-million sliced from the major crimes unit of the RCMP, which polices much of B.C. under an agreement with the provincial government.
The overall annual budget of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), which was launched in 2004, is $56-million, a spokesperson said. The official declined comment on the situation on Wednesday.
In a statement, the B.C. Justice Ministry suggested only the RCMP could speak to the impact of the cuts on operations, but the province has worked with police on enacting the cuts.
"The bottom line is that, in tight fiscal times, government must live within its budget while making the best decisions regarding public safety," the statement said. "It will continue to build on the approaches that have given B.C. its lowest crime rate in four decades."
The commanding RCMP officer for B.C. said the cuts would hurt. "Policing costs money and we have less to work with. There will be fewer police officers available in these specialized areas tomorrow than there were yesterday," Craig Callens said in a statement.
He said CFSEU has cut one of its enforcement teams, affecting 12 positions and will reduce the help it offers member agencies, though it will continue to do its best to fight organized crime. He also said there will be a reduction of 13 full-time investigators from various major crimes projects affecting such files as unsolved homicides and missing-persons cases.
The public-safety critic for the provincial New Democratic Opposition said the cuts will only please the government – and criminals.
"You cannot take your foot off the throat of organized crime," Mike Farnworth said in an interview. "We have seen over the last decade the havoc organized-crime, criminal gangs have caused in British Columbia from Prince George to Kelowna to here in the Lower Mainland, so the idea that you would cut funding that is going to help fight criminal gangs is just mind-boggling."
Mr. Farnworth said the $2.8-million would be taken from resources needed for the complicated, long-term investigations necessary to bring down the leaders of such organizations. He said the B.C. government seems fixated on its budgets to the exclusion of dealing with a major policing priority.
"I don't understand what their logic is because there is no logic," he said.
The CFSEU has offices in Kelowna, Prince George and Victoria. Its website touts investigations that have targeted the Bacon brothers, involved in various gang activites in the Lower Mainland, and the Hells Angels. They also found a tunnel in Aldergrove used to smuggle illegal drugs between Canada and the United States.
Barinder Rasode, a Surrey city councillor poised to launch a bid to be the city's next mayor, said she was very concerned about the cuts and would try to change the province's decision if she is elected to lead the city, which has been hard hit by gang violence, including the deaths of six men in the 2007 Surrey Six killings in a high-rise apartment.
Doug McCallum, a former Surrey mayor running in this fall's election, said many Surrey homicides have been gang-related. "If anything, we should be expanding the RCMP's gang work," he said. "We certainly shouldn't be cutting it."