The RCMP’s interim report to city council highlighted the detachment’s struggle to retain and recruit experienced officers. Following 21 transfers in 2016, roughly half of the detachment’s current force is new to the community and straight from the academy.
“It’s very challenging when you’re trying to juggle those resources in and out,” said RCMP Detachment Commander Blake Ward to council on Monday, Aug. 21. “And unfortunately, a lot of [the outgoing officers] had to be replaced by cadets coming out of training. So there’s more time involved in training them up and getting them on the road. But the benefit is, we get to create the kind of Mountie we want.”
Going forward, the detachment will intensify its focus on a lower transfer rate and encourage members to extend their four-year posting. More than 1,000 hours in the last quarter were devoted to training in such areas as operations, search warrants, weapons and records management.
Speaking with The Northern View, acting officer-in-charge, Brian Donaldson said there’s no clear reason retention and recruitment are a problem.
“Prince Rupert, for whatever reason has a tough time attracting officers with experience. I think part of it is the city has a rough reputation from some time ago. It is a busy place and it’s demanding on officers, but at the same time it’s a great place to live.” Donaldson also suggested the relatively remote location of Prince Rupert and the associated costs of travelling to and from might also be a factor.
He added, “A lot of times they’re using Prince Rupert as a stepping stone to get where they want, and that’s kind of typical of the RCMP overall. But it’s nice when we have members that extend for six or eight years—and we do have that sometimes.”
At the council meeting, Councillor Wade Niesh said he was worried that Prince Rupert might be “turning into a training ground” for young officers, and asked Ward if the city is paying excessively for the high number of inexperienced members. Ward didn’t have the financials on hand, but assured council the training does not involve any overtime, and expenses are always closely monitored. Municipalities pay 70 per cent of policing costs while the province pays the remainder. There are some instances where members need to travel for training opportunities, removing them from actual police work in the community, but Ward noted those trips are rescheduled if they conflict with staffing needs. He added the number of transfers this year is already looking more manageable.
Donaldson later added it’s misleading to use the term training ground. “We don’t send members here strictly to have Prince Rupert pay for all the training and then send them off. It’s typical of all detachments. We owe it to these junior investigators to make sure they have the tools they need, and the knowledge, skills and abilities they can to investigate crime in Prince Rupert.”
Despite these concerns, councillor Barry Cunningham praised the detachment for its work and visibility in the community. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things about the force in the last year or two. It’s a very good sign.”
High visibility is a cornerstone to one of the detachments top priorities to reduce crime against persons and property. “If people see us out there, the less likely they’re going to try something,” said Ward. “The members are getting out there; they do a lot of patrols, including foot patrols and a couple bike patrols.”
Ward listed a few areas where crime has fallen, including theft from and of vehicles, but noted break and enters into businesses has risen from five last year to 11 currently.
“That’s a big concern,” he said.
But of the top issues to public safety, domestic violence was highlighted as a “real” problem in Prince Rupert with a number of high-risk families on file.
“It’s not an easy offence to deal with because you can’t just walk down the street and say, ‘oh, yes, that home is going to have a domestic violence situation tonight so let’s prevent it.’ We are trying a number of different ways to deal with it, and the best we have found is with the support groups and support for the victims. But also to make sure our investigations are rock solid, and try to take away from that conflict when a victim doesn’t want to go to court, and yet we have evidence to proceed.”
The detachment has assigned a member to light duties to analyze the domestic violence files, which will help the officers target the issues with more precision, Ward said.