Shortage of Mounties could see Prince George become regional hub

B.C. RCMP officials are facing officer shortages and increased costs in larger municipalities while potentially closing small detachments in favour of regional hubs, an RCMP assistant commissioner said this week.

Eric Stubbs told Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates in Whistler that attrition and fewer future constables training in Regina has led to officer shortages.

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In response, the force is repositioning staff and considering creating regional hubs in places such as Prince George, Nanaimo, Penticton, Vernon and the Kootenays.

"In larger communities, we are looking at regional detachments," Stubbs said. "We're revisiting them to see if they need to be tweaked, to be blown up, or (remain) the status quo.

"It's scrutiny of who's doing what, what's the most effective model. With the spotlight on costs, we want to make sure we get that right."

Stubbs said officers would be moved in and out of hubs, possibly replacing traditional one-or-two member detachments where officers worked all hours.

"We have to be able to adapt and innovate as the environment changes around us," Stubbs said.

The RCMP has not been without controversy in B.C. and there are those who would close local detachments and switch to municipal forces.

But, stressed Clayton Pecknold, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General assistant deputy minister and director of police services, a move to city forces comes at a significant cost to a city's budget.

"More and more, the cost of policing is becoming a concern for the ministry," Pecknold said.

UBCM safety committee chairman Bruce Hayne said provincial policing has cost $1.19 billion this year, up from $1.08 billion in 2016.

"These costs are not going down," Hayne said.

Stubbs downplayed a shortage of new officers while acknowledging problems with attrition and members moving on to other work.

"We're recruiting the people we need," he said. "We're doing our best to get them into strategic areas."

Part of the aim, he said, is keeping communities safe by targeting prolific offenders.

"They don't care about the community," They care about themselves," he said.

Other prime policing areas are the domestic violence, sexual violence, and mental health issues and the opioid crisis, Stubbs said.

"The RCMP has become a leading agency in the deployment of (opioid overdose-reversing drug) Naloxone."

Gang violence remains a Lower Mainland issue, he said, adding that the RCMP has learned from fighting gangs, putting it in the forefront of such work in Canada.

Potentially complicating matters is the looming unionization of the RCMP and timelines for trials set by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The top court's Jordan decision in 2016 established strict timelines for getting a criminal case to trial.

The court gave the police and courts 18 months in provincial court and 30 months in superior court. If the timelines aren't met, cases can be tossed for violating an accused's right to be tried in a reasonable time.

Stubbs said that means officers are spending more time at their desks doing the required timeline paperwork rather than responding to calls.

"This is a real issue - our having to stay in the office."

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