The City of Prince Rupert has received notice that the RCMP building on McBride Street is no longer adequate.
That notice was in the form of a copy of a letter from the commanding officer of the division, informing the province’s Attorney General that Prince Rupert’s 33-year-old RCMP building is in violation of the policing agreement the municipality has with the provincial government.
Under the terms of the agreement, municipalities have to provide and maintain, at no costs to Canada, office spaces, heat, lighting and facilities that will meet the security standards of the force, Inspector Bob Killbery of the Prince Rupert RCMP told the Northern View.
“They’ll give them three consecutive annual notices. It’s not like the building’s falling down and if you don’t replace it we will build it ourselves. It’s a three-year process. The City’s received the first letter.”
If the City were to receive two more notices and take no action, then the province could proceed and construct a building and come back and bill the municipality.
“We don’t want to get into that situation. My understanding is it has happened before in other communities, but I’m hopeful we’re not going to get to that. At the end of the day, we’ve been talking about this for a long time, and it’s come to the point where we have to do something about it,” Killbery said.
Mayor Jack Mussallem confirmed City staff is in the process of preparing a referendum bylaw for the upcoming election in November where voters will be asked whether to support the construction of a new emergency services building that could possibly house not only the RCMP, but the Fire Rescue Department as well.
“When you see these buildings deteriorate, clearly something needs to be done. And when you get an emergency services provider issuing letters of concern, we have to react,” the mayor said.
The letter doesn’t say the City has to build a new building, but Killbery believes renovating the existing RCMP building is not the best solution because it will not address the building’s problems.
“It would mean pouring good money into bad,” he said.
Describing the cell block as antiquated, Killbery suggested it carries a high degree of liability because the cells still have bars on the doors.
“They haven’t had bars on the doors for many years now. All the new cells have solid doors. It prevents people from hanging themselves or hurting themselves and protects the people that work there,” Kilberry said.
Prince Rupert on average handles 1800 prisoners per year. The number could be higher, but in the last two years the local detachment has taken a stand with the prisoner issue and has opted not to take provincially remanded prisoners over the weekends.
The reason being said Killbery, there are not enough cells and the ones that exist are not big enough to house extra prisoners.
Besides, the number of prisoners the local RCMP arrest over the normal course of a weekend in Prince Rupert already brings the detachment to capacity.
“We can’t have prisoners waiting in our cells over the weekend to be dealt with the courts the following week or waiting to be transported to Prince George. By sending the prisoners out we create a safer environment for people that are taken into custody. A lot of problems arise when you have overcrowded cells,” Kilberry said.
Alternatively the sheriff’s office regularly transports prisoners 140 kms away to Terrace, where there are cell blocks that meet security standards.
Yet every time a prisoner is shipped out, the City loses potential revenue.
“The City can bill back for the keep of provincial prisoners. They claim money back from the province, so every time we ship somebody out, it’s money out of the City’s coffers. In good conscious, we can’t be stacking people in cells,” Killbery said.
In addition to cell block problems, there are also issues with the size of the building.
“We have a number of people that work for me that don’t work out of this building because there’s no room. Twelve members that work out in the villages that report back to me work out of a different building. There are a lot of inefficiencies,” Killbery explained.
Files generated by officers have to be held at the McBride Street location, but if one of those twelve officers wants to work on a file, then the file is taken to another location.
Referring to a study done in 1997 for a new police building for Prince Rupert, Kilberry said the issue could be studied to death.
He’d rather see the City be proactive, plan a building itself and have a say in how it wants to build for the future.