All municipalities with a population over 5,000 are required by the British Columbia Police Act to provide for a police service. Municipalities in this category have two options: contract with the provincial government for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or create an independent police department.
Municipalities that choose to operate an independent police force are required to create a civilian oversight body called a "Police Board". Members of the police board are civilian members of the community and are appointed by the provincial government through an order in council sponsored by the Solicitor-General (of B.C.). A police board usually has between five and seven members, depending on the size of the municipality. The Mayor of the municipality is, by law, automatically the Chairperson of the board. One other member of board is usually nominated by the municipality to represent the municipality's interest. Board members are selected from a variety of backgrounds and are usually appointed for one or two year terms. They may be re-appointed to a maximum of six years service. Except for the Mayor, municipal councillors may not be appointed to the municipality's police board.
The mandate of a police board is to own and operate the independent municipal police department ensuring that police independence from political interference is maintained. The board functions as:
The board selects and evaluates the Chief Constable and sometimes other senior departmental managers thereby allowing the board to maintain indirect control and influence over the department, although, in the same way that the police board is independent of the municipal council for policing matters, the Chief Constable is independent from the board for operational matters.
Public complaints against the police were formerly dealt with by the police board. Since July 1, 1998, public complaints are handled by the British Columbia Police Complaint Commissioner who, as an Officer of the Legislature, is appointed by and responsible to the legislative assembly. Only level of service complaints and complaints against the Chief Constable are still dealt with by the police board.
Police departments may be amalgamated at the discretion of the Solicitor-General. This occurred on January 1, 2003 when Esquimalt and Victoria police departments were amalgamated and a combined police board created with the Mayor of Victoria as the Chairperson and the Mayor of Esquimalt as the Vice-Chairperson. Enhanced "professional response, crime prevention and investigation in both communities" were cited as the reasons for the amalgamation.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are contracted to provide municipal policing to 59 British Columbia municipalities including Surrey, Burnaby, Kelowna, Prince George, Kamloops and Nanaimo. Police boards are not utilized for RCMP municipalities.
There are currently 11 police boards in British Columbia:
Statistics are from "Police and Crime, Summary Statistics, 1994-2003" published by the Police Services Division of the BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General