Three Vernon council candidates with ideas on how to attract more police officers - InfoNews

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Three Vernon council candidates with ideas on how to attract more police officers

October 09, 2018 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - Public safety is a key issue in the Vernon municipal election campaign but it’s far more complicated than just hiring more police officers. Vernon, like many communities, want to pay for more officers but the RCMP continues to struggle to fill those positions. It's an issue we paid particular attention to. 

Our question to candidates for Vernon council and mayor: The RCMP has struggled for years to provide Vernon with enough officers. How will you help Vernon get the officers or enforcement it seeks?

The question was interpreted in different ways by candidates, but we noticed nine councillors who displayed in their answers a knowledge of this complexity and we singled out three responses that offered ideas about how Vernon councillors can actually respond.

Below you will find excerpts from their answers, and full responses at the bottom of the page.

— This story was edited at 4:08 p.m. Oct. 10 to edit the question. The original question was not identical to the question candidates were asked.

THREE CANDIDATES WITH IDEAS

Jasmine Finlay
Jasmine Finlay
Image Credit: Facebook

Jasmine Finlay: Municipalities need to work together (using tools like the UBCM) to pressure the federal government to increase pay, so the RCMP isn’t losing members to higher paying municipal forces… Hiring takes time, especially during a shortage. If elected, I will be requesting a detailed update in the quarterly reports to Council until those positions have been filled.

Kelly Fehr: There is little council can do to assist the RCMP in their recruitment process for officers. Having said this working to address Vernon’s low vacancy rate can be a priority. As with most potential employees looking at moving or transferring to our region housing options would be a top consideration.

Victor Cumming (For Mayor): Vernon is a great place to live and work, and those benefits need to be actively shared with potential new RCMP officers.

NINE MORE WHO ACKNOWLEDGE THE REAL PROBLEM

Don Jefcoat: In areas where council can support law enforcement I believe it needs to. I also believe the RCMP needs to reciprocate that and be providing the personnel and allocation of officers to ensure the best policing practices.

Dalvir Nahal
Dalvir Nahal

Dalvir Nahal: On a municipal level all that we can do is advocate for more officers. We can also offer new Commander any support she may require to lobby for more officers in her jurisdiction.

Darrin Taylor (For Mayor): I will support RCMP fully as they proactively enforce laws around property crime, open drug use, trafficking and vagrancy. RCMP can and does work closely with Bylaw Enforcement and contracted private security to increase public safety.

Teresa Durning: I will continue to support wherever possible to assist in filling these positions but the recruitment and position filling procedure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is federal; so not within the mandate of City Council.

Rick Lavin: I believe Council can set strategic priorities that will help use the available resources in the best possible way. By working with the RCMP in collaboration with businesses and citizens, Vernon can focus its efforts and achieve its goals.

Gordon Leighton: The deficiency in staffing has less to do with Vernon City Council’s willingness to fund more officers than the challenges faced by the RCMP to recruit and retain new members. Council’s recent decision to fund four new members may have been a difficult budgeting task, but whether they approved budget for four or six or more is somewhat irrelevant to a nation-wide recruiting dilemma facing the RCMP.

Shawn Lee: Is the solution simply to add more officers to our local detachment? You might think so but I think a more useful question would be how are the forces we now fund deployed?

Dawn Tucker: As a city we should continue to not only utilize (bylaw and private security) but to look at more ways we can use them cooperatively. We have great enforcement options in Vernon and we have to be willing to listen to their needs and to utilize them in the best ways to support our residents and one another.

Terry Vulcano: I'd like to have more information on the type of calls officers are dealing with to appreciate where the priorities are, and learn what are the goals to be achieved with the new staff in place.

OTHER RESPONSES

Kevin Lepp: I strongly support increased budget for these positions. We need to ensure that we have appropriate law enforcement to meet the safety needs of our growing community.

Sherrilee Franks: Increasing the number of RCMP officers or enforcement is part of the budget planning. Consideration needs to be given to how many more can be brought in at what cost to taxpayers.

Kari Gares
Kari Gares
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

Kari Gares: To increase funding for law enforcement, the City of Vernon must look at ways of increasing its revenue from property taxes from both commercial and residential properties. To do this, we need to grow our tax base.

Dave Deshane: There are small things we can all do. We have to start pushing back. I too have become complacent, that needs to change. For example when I was parking at my office the other day there were a couple of ‘suspicious young men trading money for small rocks? I watched, they didn’t care. I should have blown my horn and disturbed them and made them feel uncomfortable. It has to start somewhere.

Jamie Morrow: I believe that we need to continue to work and liaise with the RCMP within the Police Services Agreement. We need to continue in consultation with the RCMP to establish the level of resources, budget and policing priorities required for Vernon.

Sam Zaharia: By choosing our battles. I will work to define and protect what's left of our 'red light district' and stop wasting money policing activities that are none of our business.

These six candidates did not respond:

Scott Anderson

Art Gourley

Lily Kerr

Akbal Mund

Erik Olesen

Brian Quiring

 

Full responses, exactly as submitted, to the question: The RCMP has struggled for years to provide Vernon with enough officers, even asking officers to work in unsafe conditions. How will you help Vernon get the officers or enforcement it seeks?

Victor Cumming: Vernon Council has approved and funded six additional regular member positions at the cost of $1,032,000 annually. This is on top of one additional funded officer position for each of the two previous years at a cost of $356,000 annually for a total of eight new positions over the last three years. The RCMP have not been able to fill these positions despite repeated efforts by our local Detachment Command Officers. We have a new command officer who is absolutely focused on filling all vacant positions and is actively and personally recruiting skilled officers to her team.

Vernon is simply one of many RCMP serviced communities across B.C. and Alberta who cannot fill funded positions. The RCMP cannot produce enough recruits to meet the National demand. Vernon competes with all these communities, e.g. Kamloops, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Surrey, and many others who have equally grave concerns as they work to fill positions and retain skilled officers. Large urban police forces (not served by RCMP, e.g. Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton) often attract experienced RCMP officers to their service with better remuneration and stable location as there is no need to accept transfers to another community.

As Mayor, I will work to support our Superintendent Shawna Baher and appeal directly to Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli, responsible for SE District, and E Division (BC) Command Officers to fill our vacant position. Vernon is a great place to live and work, and those benefits need to be actively shared with potential new RCMP officers.

David Deshane: Obviously there is much more to the current crime problem than just more officers. The previous council allowed unlimited numbers of ‘dispensaries’ and directed the police to leave them alone. When a business owner stood up for his rights, they charged him and made him a criminal.

There are also small things that we can all do. We have to start pushing back. I to have become complacent, that needs to change. For example when I was parking at my office the other day there were a couple of ‘suspicious young men’ trading money for small rocks? … I watched, they didn’t care… I should have blown my horn and disturbed them and made them feel uncomfortable. It has to start somewhere.

Teresa Durning: Keeping in mind:

(1) It is not illegal to be homeless,

(2) it is not illegal to have mental health issues, and

(3) it’s not illegal to be an addict; having more officers on the ground isn’t going to be the silver bullet we are looking for.

When the homeless take down their day camps by the People Place each evening, it’s bylaw that is there to make sure it is done (there may be an officer to keep the peace but it is actually a civic bylaw that is being enforced).  The city has no legislative authority to change the criminal code or the Charter of Rights so its hands are tied on so much of this issue.

I think the following is imperative to remember:

The community voice was heard and budget was provided for six new officer positions in 2018 – There is a shortage of officers and these positions have not been filled. The cost for one officer per year is estimated at $175, 000. If we times the annual salary by six itiss over one million dollars per year and a cost incurred by the taxpayers of 1.5% to cover that. The cost of policing in Vernon is 90% covered by the taxpayers of Vernon. The new RCMP in charge Shawna Bahr, would be a good resource around recruitment and issues. I will be speaking to her to clarify the HR aspect of this question at my earliest convenience. I will continue to support wherever possible to assist in filling these positions but the recruitment and position filling procedure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is federal; so not within the mandate of City Council.

Kelly Fehr: Council has done the right thing and has funded the additional positions. There is little council can do to assist the RCMP in their recruitment process for officers. Having said this working to address Vernon’s low vacancy rate can be a priority. As with most potential employees looking at moving or transferring to our region housing options would be a top consideration.

Jasmine Finlay: Vernon is dealing with the results of a national RCMP shortage. Municipalities need to work together (using tools like the UBCM) to pressure the federal government to increase pay, so the RCMP isn’t losing members to higher paying municipal forces.

One thing that we do have going for us in attracting officers is that Vernon is a wonderful place to live! Being a desirable posting is a good starting point.

Vernon approved a budget for additional officers last year, but the positions have not been filled, resulting in a current budget surplus. I understand the temptation to apply these funds to meet other needs, but it would be better to explore using a portion of this reserve as a one-time hiring incentive to help fill these much-needed positions.

Hiring takes time, especially during a shortage. If elected, I will be requesting a detailed update in the quarterly reports to Council until those positions have been filled.

Sherrilee Franks: Increasing the number of RCMP officers or enforcement is part of the budget planning. Consideration needs to be given to how many more can be brought in at what cost to taxpayers.

Kari Gares: As taken from the Municipal Policing Agreement: Canadians place a high priority on living in a safe and secure society. They look to their governments, at all levels, to provide the leadership required to develop programs and policies that reduce the risk of crime. To meet these expectations, provincial, territorial, and federal governments work together to provide a society that is reflective of Canadian values.  Under this agreement, the local Municipality is responsible for 90% of the cost for law enforcement whereby the Federal Government will contribute up to 10% of that cost. To increase funding for law enforcement, the City of Vernon must look at ways of increasing its revenue from property taxes from both commercial and residential properties. To do this, we need to grow our tax base. This can be done by being an attractive destination for families wanting to make a home and for businesses looking to invest.  When a community has a strong foundation that attracts growth through a commitment of infrastructure development and business growth, you will be able to provide a strong economic foundation that fosters growth and sustainability.

Don Jefcoat: The RCMP has struggled for years to provide Vernon with enough officers. How will you help Vernon get the officers or enforcement it seeks? The RCMP funds police officers.   It is up to the RCMP to fill those funded positions. If we need to fund more officers lets look at that however we funded 6 new positions for this past year I understand the RCMP may not have filled those postings.  In areas where council can support law enforcement I believe it needs to. I also believe the RCMP needs to reciprocate that and be providing the personnel and allocation of officers to ensure the best policing practices.

Rick Lavin: As a veteran of 30 years in the RCMP I am very familiar with how decisions are made by the Federal and Provincial Governments when it comes to how RCMP resources are deployed. The city can request additional resources, but it is not a given that the RCMP can provide them.  The cost of policing is very high and every additional police officer would increase taxes. I believe Council can set strategic priorities that will help use the available resources in the best possible way. By working with the RCMP in collaboration with businesses and citizens, Vernon can focus its efforts and achieve its goals.

Shawn Lee: I believe that Vernon has been well served by the members of the RCMP who serve in our regional detachment. The maintenance of an adequate number of members is an ongoing challenge for the chief constable. He has to deal at any given time, with constables who are sick, away on stress leave or on maternity leave. It isn’t always possible to replace those officers who for whatever legitimate reasons are unable to work. Thus the numbers on active duty can vary highly depending on the above factors and the unique demographic of our local force.

Therefore we have the appearance of a chronically understaffed police force. Is the solution simply to add more officers to our local detachment? You might think so but I think a more useful question would be how are the forces we now fund deployed? Are they visible to the public they serve and protect? Are the known to us? Are they known to our children? Are they known to the business community? Are they known to the homeless? By known I mean respected and trusted? Is the force we now fund being used to best advantage?

Much of modern policing keeps these dedicated officers behind desks, writing reports, or waiting in provincial courts to testify. Surely there must be ways to streamline these necessary duties so our officers could get back on the street and in our neighbourhoods where their presence will foster the security and safety we all seek?

As a councillor I would support all measures that would get our police out of the ‘office’ so to speak and into our community. I believe that an increased presence would actually result in less need for enforcement and paradoxically free up more time for ‘presence’.

Gordon Leighton: The deficiency in staffing has less to do with Vernon City Council’s willingness to fund more officers than the challenges faced by the RCMP to recruit and retain new members. Council’s recent decision to fund four new members may have been a difficult budgeting task, but whether they approved budget for four or six or more is somewhat irrelevant to a nation-wide recruiting dilemma facing the RCMP.

This sentence from a March 2018 Globe and Mail article says it all: The Mounties are still mired in a staffing crunch; police officers are feared to be leaving the RCMP’s oversubscribed ranks faster than the force can replenish them. 

The article went on to report: The training academy is now graduating many more Mounties than usual, following the relaxation of some long-standing physical, academic and citizenship prerequisites. It produced 938 graduates in fiscal 2016. And late last year, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale publicly predicted it would produce 1,100 graduates in 2017, and 1,200 in the coming year (2018).

We expect and deserve a safe community. I am optimistic that our new Superintendent, Inspector Shawna Baher, will be effective as she leads the Vernon detachment. As reported in the Vernon Morning Star, readers learned that Inspector Baher is an expert witness in provincial and Supreme Court in relation to drugs and is a subject matter expert in relationship to fentanyl and associated analogues. She has actively addressed the opiate crisis by forming new initiatives and being pro-actively involved with other stakeholders in the Lower Mainland. She is very knowledgeable in issues impacting vulnerable populations and anticipates working with stakeholders within the North Okanagan communities to address these issues locally.

Jamie Morrow: I believe that we need to continue to work and liaise with the RCMP within the Police Services Agreement. We need to continue in consultation with the RCMP to establish the level of resources, budget and policing priorities required for Vernon. At the time of this writing I notice a news article that the RCMP have increased foot patrols in the downtown core to boost police visibility during daytime and evening shifts. This is great news. I have also included the snapshot of the Police Services agree for informational purposes.

The Police Services Agreement

  • Police Services Agreements outline the duties and responsibilities of the RCMP in financial, operational and administrative areas within the provisions of the provincial and municipal policing services.
  • Provinces and municipalities establish the level of resources, budget and policing priorities in consultation with the RCMP. (My notes. This is what I referenced in my note above)
  • The RCMP is responsible for delivering on the policing priorities within the established budget.  
  • The Police Services Agreements are based on a modernized relationship that includes strengthened accountability and governance, enhanced reporting, and meaningful consultation.
  • Police Services Agreements are based on cost share. Provinces and territories pay 70% of RCMP costs and the federal government pays 30%.
  • Municipal agreements are based on a number of different cost share formulas, which are dependent on population size, and when a municipality signed its first policing agreement with the RCMP.

Kevin Lepp: City council unanimously voted to approve funding for six RCMP officers in November 2017. I strongly support increased budget for these positions. We need to ensure that we have appropriate law enforcement to meet the safety needs of our growing community.  It is my understanding that these positions have been filled and active in the community.

Dalvir Nahal: In 2015 shortly after the new mayor and council was sworn in we increased the RCMP budget and approved 2 new RCMP positions. And again in 2017 Council increased the budget by another 1.4 million dollars to create 6 more positions. Unfortunately, due to shortage of RCMP officers across Canada have been unable to fill all positions. However, on a municipal level all that we can do is advocate for more officers. We can also offer new Commander any support she may require to lobby for more officers in her jurisdiction. Ultimately it will be up to the Federal government to decide how many positions they will fill.

Darrin Taylor: The City of Vernon has approved funding for additional officers. Unfortunately due to a nationwide shortage of police officers, those positions have been slow to get fulfilled. One side effect of this has been the detachment’s inability to fully staff the two members needed for the Downtown Enforcement Unit at a time when we desperately need that specialized unit.

As Mayor, I will support RCMP fully as they proactively enforce laws around property crime, open drug use, trafficking and vagrancy. RCMP can and does work closely with Bylaw Enforcement and contracted private security to increase public safety.

Dawn Tucker: Unfortunately RCMP members compared to other police forces in Canada have slipped in pay compared to municipal and provincial police and have become some of the lowest paid in our country. This has contributed to the shortage of RCMP members in general. Another issue that faces our detachment is that our Vernon detachment building is in dire need of replacement; it quite simply isn’t the size it needs to be and this is obvious to anyone driving by and seeing the overflow of vehicles. When it comes to enforcement our community utilizes RCMP, Bylaw and private security. One of the actions I have taken in the last couple of years was to obtain my level one and two security license. I not only interacted with active bylaw officers but former and active RCMP as well. I even have taken a ride along with a local security company this past summer so that I could see the streets and enforcement from their perspective. As a city we should continue to not only utilize these groups but to look at more ways we can use them cooperatively. We have great enforcement options in Vernon and we have to be willing to listen to their needs and to utilize them in the best ways to support our residents and one another.

Terry Vulcano: My understanding is that funding has been approved for four more officers but they have not yet been posted. The RCMP have challenges in recruiting, which may be the delay in receiving the new complement of constables. I'd like to have more information on the type of calls officers are dealing with to appreciate where the priorities are, and learn what are the goals to be achieved with the new staff in place.

Sam Zaharia: By choosing our battles. I will work to define and protect what's left of our 'red light district' and stop wasting money policing activities that are none of our business.

Have your say in the comments section below.


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