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JONESIE: Mayors can help solve this RCMP problem, but will they?

December 01, 2016 - 2:15 PM

'WE ALL BEAR THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR INCREASED RISKS'


OPINION


There’s a lot going on in the world, from Donald Trump to Standing Rock to pipelines and oil tankers on the B.C. coast.

Important issues all, but can we turn our attention for a moment to our own backyard?

In a story yesterday, we highlighted an issue at the Vernon detachment of the RCMP, but it’s actually about RCMP detachments everywhere.

Chronic understaffing in RCMP detachments is a problem across the country, but it’s not easy figuring out how and why. There’s a culture of secrecy and an allergy to public accountability in the RCMP not shared by other police forces — and that’s a big part of this problem.

That’s what makes this story different. We finally understood, thanks to many concerned citizens, the size of the problem and what it means at street level. Several knowledgable sources say they are worried for the safety of the men and women we rely on to keep us safe.

Vernon’s RCMP detachment is struggling to meet its core obligations of policing the community because roughly 20 per cent of the officers on watch shifts — the men and women on the road responding to crime at every hour of the day — aren’t actually working. They are on leaves of one sort or another.

That’s expected in any business or organization. The problem is how the RCMP deals with them — or more accurately, doesn’t deal with them. Eight to ten officers — almost one-quarter of the watch complement — are away for legitimate reasons but the RCMP has no plan, no mechanism, to ensure the positions are covered while they are off.

They make do.

They ‘risk it out’ to get the job done for us. And we all bear the responsibility for their increased risk.

Some watch shifts in Vernon are so scant, only three officers are on shift to cover a city of 40,000 people and nearly 100 square kilometres. That means if one officer finds himself in immediate danger — and that’s not an unlikely scenario — his rescuers could be miles away if they are there at all. 

Is this a live issue in Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops and other detachments? And if so, how big is the problem? We have asked city funders and the RCMP in several different ways, several times and the answer is always the same. The RCMP won't disclose how many officers are on leave because of operational safety. Cities — run by our elected officials who pay these bills — either don’t know what they are paying for or won’t say either.

We can’t say for sure how big an issue this is unless someone tells us and that’s unlikely because the people who know cannot speak out. They will be brought up on Code of Conduct violations and fired, if not lose their careers entirely.

But given that this is an RCMP operational hole, it’s very likely an issue in every RCMP detachment in the province.

We are still reporting on this. We have explained what it means to the officers on the ground and now we are trying to understand what it means to response times and crime statistics and case loads and community perceptions of crime. If you are displeased at officer response times, this is likely why. It’s part of this problem.

As one reader pointed out, by sharing this information, we are informing criminals and perhaps putting officers in greater harm. We, and our confidential sources, are aware of that theory as well but it's outweighed by the risk of ignoring it. That’s why it’s so important that the issue is addressed directly.

City policing is the sole purview of our Mayors and City Councillors, but they typically don’t acknowledge their role beyond complaints at budget time. Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund made that abundantly clear in our interview: “All we know is there’s a certain amount they ask for that we pay for…. That’s about the number we get, and that’s all we know, because how they staff and all that, we don’t get involved in that as politicians.”

With all due respect to Mayor Mund — and by extension Mayors Colin Basran, Andrew Jakubeit and Peter Milobar — that is not good enough, not by a mile. That’s not how it works with non-RCMP city police forces with police boards. Why do you treat the RCMP differently?

If you’ve decided how many police officers are needed to protect your city, you have a duty to them — and your citizens — to ensure that service level is delivered. If you are paying for them, demand those positions are filled by warm bodies.

Do it behind closed doors if you have to, but abdicating responsibility is not what you were elected for. And if safety of those officers won’t force you to get involved, then ensure that your citizens are adequately protected. Protect your own budget and get value for money.

We have exposed this problem for you. You can no longer say you don’t know about it. You can’t feign ignorance anymore. Because if this theoretical risk to officers and the community materializes, we will look to you for answers.

And what will you say then?

— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca. Contact him here.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
InfoTel News Ltd

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