The CounterAttack roadbock season began once again for British Columbians on Dec. 1. This is the time of year when police officers across the province log overtime hours to set up a series of roadblocks and checkpoints with the aim of catching impaired drivers.
This CounterAttack program has a lengthy history in BC, dating back four decades when it began in 1977. The funding for the program inevitably comes from a combination of provincial funding, ICBC, and operational money from police departments themselves.
This may be especially relevant during the December holiday season, when friends and family gather for get-togethers and parties, perhaps a few drinks are shared, and everybody still has to get home despite being a little tipsy.
But despite the millions of dollars the provincial government has invested in making its drinking-driving laws tougher, it does not appear that equal efforts have been made to strengthen police presence to stop drunk drivers.
Government has already effectively lowered impaired driving limit through the Immediate Roadside Prohibition scheme, penalizing drivers for blowing .05 and up through administrative penalties.
However, what it has not done is made sure police departments are receiving the appropriate resources to combat drunk driving.
We haven’t received final numbers yet, but for example, in 2001, ICBC spent $10.5 million to fund the CounterAttack program for one year.
The funding generally pays for overtime, additional police vehicles and other resources needed to run the CounterAttack roadblocks.
More recently, however, it appears that funding has plummeted to levels that would be considered laughable compared to what used to be the norm.
In 2012, BC Government announced it would be spending $1 million to be split between the RCMP and BC municipal police forces for the Summer portion of its CounterAttack program. Presumably, the Winter funding that year was similar. We don’t know for sure, but let’s assume $2 million in total was spent in 2012.
Three years later, in 2015 BC government’s Enhanced Traffic Enforcement Program (ETEP) annual report revealed the funding fell again, and now just $469,560 was to be split among 11 municipal police departments for the entire year.
It’s barely a fraction of the money that should be spent.
The lack of funding speaks of misplaced priorities – you can’t simply make stricter laws, then pull the funding available to enforce those laws.
Even though the ETEP program is a joint effort between the provincial government, ICBC and the RCMP, its efforts are nowhere close to what was spent years ago.
To put this into context, if we go back to 1995, the Vancouver Police Department at the time was requesting $1.3 million for a CounterAttack program to run from July to December that year.
That’s $1.3 million for a single municipal police department in 1995, compared to the half a million dollars being split among 11 municipal police departments today!
If BC government was truly serious about fighting impaired driving, it would properly fund CounterAttack programs. It would make sure CounterAttack programs do not just run in the summer and winter, but rather operate year-round. If there are drivers out there who insist on drinking and driving, I’m sure they’re not waiting until the holidays to do it.
If public safety is the priority, the people who are tasked to ensure our safety should be properly funded. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.
(We did ask ICBC how much it provided to police for CounterAttack programs, but the insurer was unable to break down its road safety funding for just that category.)