Policing shortages to last through summer
Federal policies restricting the local Grand Forks and Midway RCMP detachments from replacing officers on leave has local government and other agencies concerned for safety in the Boundary region. A letter from School District 51 triggered city councils to also lend their voice to advocate for changes in the policy that leaves small communities with few police at risk.
Teresa Rezansoff, chair of the board of trustees for School District 51, said that the district was trying to support a change in the federal staffing policies which indicate that if an officer is on leave for family reasons they do not backfill that position.
“We wrote to say that we have concerns about that particular policy and we would be supportive of any action locally that would be taken to address that. We view it as a safety issue when you have a number of personnel that are not in a small community. It was to comment on the federal policy of not backfilling vacant positions,” said Rezansoff.
“If there’s an issue that happens at a school, the RCMP has quite a wide area that they are covering. If they are far away from the community that has an issue, there is no clear plan for coverage when you have those vacancies not being filled.”
Staff Sergeant Jim Harrison explained that there are currently two officers off on family leaves for nine months – one from Midway and one from the Grand Forks detachment. This leaves the staff of four in Midway reduced to three including their new Corporal Kevin Christiansen who has been on training for the past month, and shorts the Grand Forks detachment as well.
With summer coming up, a traditionally busy time of year both at Christina Lake and across the region, Mayor Colleen Lang of Greenwood said that the lower levels of policing raises concerns for the small city.
“In the summer our officers help to cover Christina Lake so we are hoping that they will put in a replacement officer while these officers are off,” said Lang. “Crime stats are up in the area. These officers do need time off and there’s family commitments and holiday time. But if they are off they should at least bring in a replacement.”
Harrison confirmed that with the officers on leave the detachment is not able to backfill their positions. Harrison said that the officers on rotation have been doing extra hours to assist in the situation and have been responding to calls on a priority basis.
With the staff shortage in the West Boundary, Grand Forks officers have been called out to cover incidents in the other communities which Harrison says happens quite frequently. On top of the family leaves, and Midway’s corporal away for training, Harrison said they are also short one officer who is injured and on light duty.
“It’s a provincial contract issue and with the resources that we have we are stretched a bit. A lot of the times because of the staff shortage we don’t have somebody working out of the Midway offices and we are providing service out of Grand Forks,” said Harrison. “We are going to respond to everything that we normally respond to, but when you’re faced with this type of resourcing issue you have to do things by priority.”
Harrison said jokingly that murders come first and barking dogs last, and that everything else falls in between, but seriously he sees the situation as a bit of a juggling act. “We have to establish priorities and yes, there’s going to be some types of cases where response is delayed because the police officers may be dealing with an emergency in Grand Forks and a routine type call comes in from Greenwood or Beaverdell, yes, it might just have to wait.”
In the case of Christina Lake, Harrison said that in the past the detachment has always had a budget to allow them to pay overtime hours to officers to assist in the extra workload. Normally they would expend that budget, but with the current shortages Harrison said he’s not confident that the officers will volunteer for the extra time.
He is working with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary to fund a reserve constable at the Lake for the summer. While it has not been approved yet with the RCMP, Harrison said the next steps are to develop an agreement and find a constable interested in the job.
“We’re in the process of doing that and it will probably alleviate some of our resourcing issues. It will certainly help us meet our commitments out at Christina Lake in the summer. We’ll still have the seasonal policing budget as well and will try to staff all of the shifts that we have funding for out there,” explained Harrison.
Harrison said that the situation is similar to any other provincial agency operating today – there are staff shortages, no extra money and no pool of human resources to draw on.
“It’s a dollars and cents issue as well,” said Harrison. “When (an officer) leaves their position is essentially frozen and suspended for them to return to. We just have to make do and the officers have been doing an admirable job under some pretty difficult circumstances.”