VERNON - Without an increase of general duty officers, there will be risks to the citizens of Vernon and its police officers, the city’s top cop said today.
The revelation comes a year after iNFOnews.ca's November 2016 series "Risk it Out" which identified chronic understaffing issues within the Vernon detachment was creating unacceptable risks for officers.
Supt. Jim McNamara is now asking council for a boost of six more police officers, including four general duty constables, and one officer each for the Prolific Offender Unit and Sex Crimes unit. The price tag is roughly $1 million, which includes salaries, equipment, administration and maintenance costs.
In “Risk it Out,” iNFOnews.ca reported that Vernon’s general duty watches — which are made up of seven constables, one corporal and a sergeant — had at times fallen as low as just three officers due to understaffing. Our story revealed that when officers are away on parental leave and sick leave, or due to injuries or for training, the watches are forced to “risk it out” with remaining members because no one else was backfilling the shifts. Watch commanders can call in overtime, but that often leads to stress and burnout. Sources in positions of knowledge said the shortage was putting officers at risk.
Today, Nov. 14, Supt. McNamara reiterated many of those issues when he presented Vernon city council with a 17-page business case for more manpower. In that report, he says a reduction in funded officer positions since 2010 combined with increasing workloads has affected levels of service, and had “a detrimental impact on officer well-being and fatigue of personnel.”
'IMPACT ON LOCAL MORALE'
“This demand on available resources contributes to a further decrease in operational capacity during periods of medical and administrative absences. The current limitations on staffing also have an impact on local morale and job satisfaction and may lead to challenges in attracting experienced police officers from other detachments to Vernon due to concerns about workloads and the inability to maintain a healthy work/life balance,” McNamara said.
In a comparison with nine other RCMP detachments, McNamara said Vernon consistently ranked the highest for calls for service per officer from 2010 to 2016, and the highest criminal code offences per officer for the last four years. The average criminal code files per officer for those nine communities was 74, while a Vernon officer has 98, McNamara said.
Vernon’s four general duty watches — responsible for responding to calls for service and carrying out proactive policing, targeted patrols, street checks and traffic enforcement — are comprised of one sergeant, one corporal and seven constable positions, McNamara said. In an interview following his presentation to council, McNamara told iNFOnews.ca the nine-officer complement is a targeted level and not consistently met due to annual leaves, members being away for training, or officers calling in sick. He said the detachment has a minimum staffing level for the watches but would not divulge what that number is. He said watch commanders have the ability to call officers in on overtime if the watches are below minimum levels.
Under the heading “Risks associated to status quo” McNamara’s report states that no increase in officers would result in risks to citizens and police officers, including lowered conviction rates.
McNamara appears to have done a complete turnaround on the issue. In a letter to the editor published a few days after “Risk it Out” Supt. McNamara initially disputed the findings: “To set the record straight, I do not believe chronic under staffing is leaving our police officers or the public in danger,” he said. Asked today about those comments, McNamara said: “What I was very clear on is I don’t believe our officers were at risk as a result of understaffing… in danger as a result of officer staffing,” McNamara said.
Does he still believe they are not at risk?
“Well, are officers at risk every day when they go out? I mean, they put their lives on the line every day they go out to work, so they’re always at risk, but it was very specific that the suggestion was our officers were in danger as a result of understaffing and I don’t believe they were and I don’t believe they are today."
Risks associated to status quo (on general duty watches):
Greater risk to police and public safety through limited resource availability and the capacity to respond to calls for service in a timely manner.
Inability to maintain police visibility through pro-active patrolling to deter crime.
Reduced public confidence due to a diminished ability to maintain current service delivery levels.
Decreased flexibility to manage vacancies due to mandatory training, vacation, parental leave, injury illness and other unplanned and unanticipated absences.
Weaker court cases and reduced conviction rates due to police officers having inadequate time to dedicate to thorough and complete investigations.
The need to collapse current enhanced units, such as Downtown Enforcement Unit (DEU), the Prolific Offender Unit (POU) and our School Resource Officer (SRO) position in order to redeploy those resources to general duty to deal with growing demands for service.
Negative impact on officer morale and well-being as a result of excessive call volumes and workload and inability to maintain a healthy work/ life balance.
Lack of opportunity for officers to participate in developmental opportunities to enhance skills and personal development which would lead to higher quality service delivery.
Inability to attract experienced police officers from other detachments to Vernon due to concerns about excessive workloads and the inability to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
The full report can be read here.
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