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Census shows Gibsons still has under 5,000 people so it's to remain under Sunshine Coast RCMP detachment

With a population under 5,000, Town avoids policing costs tripling
Gibsons police station
Gibsons will remain under the Sunshine Coast RCMP detachment as the municipality had not yet reached the 5,000 person mark as of the 2021 census.

Gibsons dodged the “5,000 population” mark bullet that could have tripled its policing costs. The updated official town headcount from the 2021 census, released Feb. 9, is 4,758, up just over three per cent in the five years since the 2016 census.

Starting with his inaugural speech in 2018, Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish expressed concerns about community policing issues, including having the town, with an estimated population of near 4,800, bumped into a higher police cost-sharing category. Under the BC Police Act, the province provides policing services for communities with fewer than 5,000 people. Those municipalities chip in 30 per cent of their total policing costs. Once a municipality exceeds 5,000 people, it must pay 70 per cent of those costs.

The Town was pleasantly surprised to have not officially hit 5,000 people, Beamish said in a press release, adding that it means the municipality has five more years to prepare for the increase in policing costs and lay the groundwork for a smooth transition. “It also means we can shift our focus slightly in the short term to help the RCMP address more immediate local issues such as the recruitment of a new Sunshine Coast detachment commander and increased service to our community,” he said.

A December 2019 Gibsons Police Services Select Committee report identified annual costs of between $1.1 and $1.4 million to operate a town police detachment once the 5,000 population level was reached. Those costs were based on keeping the RCMP as the service provider and employing six to eight officers and two support staff. That same year, Gibsons paid $403,000 as its share of the Coast’s detachment costs.

In 2021, council approved a five per cent property tax increase with funds raised retained in a reserve to offset the financial impact of anticipated increases to policing costs.

Gibsons established a Police Transition Select Committee in 2022. The release states that group is expected to continue meeting in the near-term, in order to help identify and advance Gibsons’ current policing needs.

Those needs will likely include issues Beamish included in a submission to a provincial committee looking at reforms to the Police Act. He asked for changes that recognize how population shifts impact policing in smaller communities. With working from home becoming easier, he stated that residents of larger urban areas are moving to smaller centres in higher numbers. He suggested that the threshold population at which police cost sharing is adjusted be increased to 6000 and that the cost adjustments be phased in over a five year period.

Beamish also asked for a clear definition of the phase "adequate and effective level of policing and law enforcement" in the Act.  He also requested that the level include resources and funding for crime prevention activities.

Noting that the complement of provincial officers at the Sunshine Coast RCMP detachment had not increased since 2008, he wrote “In our view, the province has failed to provide and maintain an adequate and effective level of policing in our community. However, the lack of any definition of what this means makes it very difficult to plan and to effectively lobby for the resources we require.”

In a third ask, Beamish suggested that the act be amended to encourage increased cross-agency cooperation and coordination, with additional resources provided by the province to supplement police response to issues of mental health and addictions.