Kitimat RCMP’s acting detachment commander said Kitimat is unlikely to be affected by the projected provincial budget shortfall of $10.7-million budget shortfall in the force’s provincial budget.
Speaking at the District of Kitimat council meeting on Monday, November 18, Sgt. Eric Black said the previous two B.C. wildfire seasons had had a major impact on the provincial RCMP budget.
“We came into this year with a bit of a deficit. The main impact that that has had has been on our provincial policing abilities,” said Black, replying to a question from councillor Mark Zielinski.
“The budget constraints are quite a concern. We can’t spend more money than we’ve been given. We have to try to work with what we’re given.”
He said the provincial RCMP was relocating resources throughout the province as the need arises, rolling out speciality teams and community response groups such as those that assist communities experiencing protests linked to oil and gas pipeline issues.
He said the provincial RCMP’s had implemented a number of belt-tightening measures to address the provincial budget shortfall. The Regional General Investigation Unit in Terrace, established to assist detachments like Kitimat with large investigations, is now down to two members.
“It was a three-person section. One person transferred out and they’re leaving the staff at two people, so they’re saving money from that wage. They’re doing that all over in different places,” said Black.
The Kitimat RCMP detachment has a staff complement of 21. Two of the members are paid by the provincial RCMP, while 18 of the members are classified as municipal police officers, paid by the District of Kitimat, and one member classified a First Nations police officer.
The staff consists of a staff sergeant, a sergeant (operations NCO), three corporals (road supervisors), one of which is a provincially-paid position, two General Investigation Section constables and 14 General Duty Constables, one of which is a provincially-paid position.
“With the two provincial positions, we have to be careful with what those people do, how much overtime they work,” said Black.
The detachment had three major investigations in the last 12 months which necessitated bringing staff in from outside Kitimat, from the Major Crime Unit and from the Prince Rupert and Terrace detachments.
He said the RCMP financial analysts in Prince George had predicted a shortage in the Kitimat municipal RCMP budget.
“As regards the municipal budget we’ve spent quite a bit, probably more than what we should have, so moving forward we’re also looking at how we spend our municipal budget, as well as the provincial side, just to make sure we don’t go beyond what we need to.”
He said the detachment had implemented cost-saving measures, including limiting overtime and cutting back substantially on training.
“Municipal actions will not be curtailed. In fact, on April 1 the municipal police side is going to actually increase by two members,” Black added.
Councillor Mario Feldhoff was quick to allay fears that the District of Kitimat would be cutting back on police services in light of the provincial budget shortfall.
“I want to be clear – if anything we have increased our staffing in anticipation of the LNG demands in our community,” said Feldhoff. “The challenge the RCMP is having is on the provincial component of the funding.”
Feldhoff said further discussions around staffing and budget for Kitimat RCMP will take place in the budget deliberations which start this month.
In the 2019 budget presented to the District of Kitimat council in December 2018, the Kitimat detachment’s municipal budget for 2019 was increased from $2,547,959 to $2,612,436, an increase of 2.5 per cent.
This amounts to nearly nine per cent of the District of Kitimat’s General Operating Expenses budget of $29,533,773 that was allocated for 2019.
In 2017, the last available statistics provided by the B.C. government for detachments in towns with a population of between 5,000 and 15,000, Kitimat is listed as having a population of 7,421 with 18 members in the detachment at the time, a ratio of 412 residents for one RCMP member.
To put that into perspective, in 2017 Victoria had a ratio of 421 residents per member, while Vancouver had a ratio of 496 residents per member. The only detachment better resourced than Kitimat was Prince Rupert, which had a ratio of 298 residents per member.
In a statement to Black Press Media, B.C.’s public safety minister Mike Farnworth said the RCMP had informed the province about a projected deficit, and that inflation, overtime and other costs have become increasingly difficult to manage.
“This has not impacted significant and continued provincial and federal investments into gangs and organized crime initiatives and prevention,” he said, including the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.
The RCMP’s provincial budget covers integrated units such as homicide investigation, traffic and forensics, as well as rural policing. Urban centres, such as Kelowna and Surrey, are largely funded by municipalities.
B.C. RCMP communications director Dawn Roberts emphasized that the cuts are still just a projection and that the first things on the chopping block are travel expenses, overtime, non-mandatory training and new equipment.
That won’t be enough, however, she added, so senior officers will need to discuss options with the province.
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible. We do not want to impact front-line policing operations,” Roberts told Black Press in a phone interview.
“All of us are looking at our spending envelope and seeing whether or not we can make reductions,” said Roberts, referring to whether integrated units could be affected.
National Police Federation president Brian Sauve said while the cuts were concerning they were nothing new.
He said he’s mainly concerned about how to maintain adequate service levels and how to ensure staff receive enough downtime. He’s also seen mention of a ‘possible freeze’ in staffing areas like transfers and promotions.
“Whether it has to do with extra work or working harder to get the job done, [Mounties] will still do it,” said Sauve.
The RCMP has not had union representation until now. The federation was finally certified as the official bargaining agent earlier this year following a historic court ruling back in 2015.
Sauve said he hopes to soon meet with Farnworth and B.C. premier John Horgan. Roberts said she anticipated that the union would be involved in future negotiations.
– with reporting by Laura Baziuk