Vacancies at northwestern RCMP detachments are commonplace and the situation may not get better anytime soon, says the federal police force’s top officer in northern B.C.
“Transfers, medical leaves, parental leaves, suspensions for one reason or another. They all contribute,” says Chief Superintendent Warren Brown who is based in Prince George.
But filling those vacancies is becoming increasingly difficult because the RCMP is not immune from the lack of new bodies afflicting any number of public sector and private enterprises across the country.
“We used to have hundreds, thousands, of applications,” said Brown.
“Now they’re even cancelling troops,” he said of the formations of recruits who pass through the force’s training depot in Regina. “We used to get 10 to 15 people from a troop. Now we’re lucky to get two or three.”
One measure introduced by the RCMP in the north several years ago to cope with vacancies hasn’t worked out the way first intended. That was to create two squads of officers, one in Terrace and one in Prince George, to be sent temporarily to plug staffing holes. But the force has even had trouble keeping those fully staffed.
“You have to remember, this is not like the Hollywood of the 1950s and 1960s where the officer mounts his horse and rides off,” said Brown of a new generation of police officers.
“You need the right people for that job to work in small and Indigenous communities. You need self-motivated people. A skill set. A special person who fits that.”
Recent detachment reports from around the northwest underline the staffing situation.
The Dease Lake/Telegraph Creek detachment should have six officers but with one officer on parental leave and one position vacant, it had just four members as of the fall.
It’s also a good example of the policy of two-year postings in more remote detachments which in this case means half of the officers leave every year.
Also as of the fall, the Lisims-Nass Valley detachment was down two officers from a regular complement of eight.
The detachment is also a good example of where the police force provides housing in more rural and remote locations.
A new house is nearing completion behind the detachment in Gitlaxt’aamiks, the largest community in the Nass Valley, and that will help attract someone to fill one of the vacant positions.
The Houston detachment, which also covers Granisle, has had an officer on long term medical recovery for some months. Normally there is a sergeant in charge of the detachment but that person was transferred earlier this year to fill the detachment commander’s job at the Smithers detachment when that officer was transferred to run the detachment in Terrace. The departure of the sergeant from Houston has meant having the one corporal there doing double administrative and other duties but that’s scheduled to change in the new year when a second corporal arrives.
Larger northwest detachments aren’t spared coping with vacancies either.
The Terrace detachment should have 37 patrol officers for the city and rural area but as of late fall, there were four vacant positions and four officers away for medical reasons.
Detachment commander Staff Sgt. Terry Gillespie, in briefing Terrace council, noted that detachments are routinely being run with an officer vacancy rate of 20 per cent.
“The detachment is expecting that the regular member staffing situation will continue to deteriorate in the near term,” indicate the minutes kept by the city of Gillespie’s briefing.
Terrace Mayor Sean Bujtas, who along with former mayor Carol Leclerc became persistent lobbyists to fill vacancies in Terrace, has said the RCMP won’t even talk to local governments until vacancies reach the 25 per cent range.
The provincial government, under increasing pressure to deal with public safety concerns, announced end of November that it would spend $230 million over three years beginning next April to fill vacancies in rural and remote areas, and in specialized units such as forensic investigations and highway patrol.
Brown welcomed the additional money with hopes it will help staff the specialized units, but said it won’t have a direct impact on vacant general duty positions at northern detachments.
“Those weren’t frozen. That’s frontline policing. That’s core policing,” he said.