Sights set on upsizing city’s police force in answer to demand
The city’s police force is in need of over seven full-time positions in order to adequately fulfill their mandate, according to the city’s top cop.
Chief constable Donovan Fisher of the Nelson Police Department said it would take just over that number of full-time positions (7.1) to sufficiently deliver all aspects of protective services for the city of Nelson. However, he is instead asking the City of Nelson for four more officers over the next three years to get the job done.
“The way things have been trending — with the population, the workload increasing — we are forecasting that we are going to need an additional officer in 2025 and another in 2026,” in addition to the two in 2024, he said.
Those new hires would give the city’s police force a total of 25 officers by 2026.
“I think this is unavoidable to get the department where it needs to be. By continuing to not staff it up by this point delays it and, eventually, we are going to get to a situation where we are going to have to add two or three officers in one fiscal year just to get back on the pace of growth in the department should be at,” he said.
The math can be worked in favour of the City, said Fisher. If everyone on the NPD staff took their allotted leave, that would be the equivalent of 3.3 officers being off for the whole year. The average sick time for the department was equivalent of 1.1 offices for the whole year.
For officers away on mandatory training, it would be the equivalent of .7 officers for the whole year, while the officers assigned to non-operational duties — due to injury, etc. — would be the equivalent of two full-time officers.
“In essence, that is seven additional officers in order to fill in for all those additional demands that are placed on the officers of the department,” he said.
This would require the NPD to have 22 frontline officers — constables, corporals and sergeants — not including management, which would nudge the minimum requirements needed to 25 officers, which is four additional officers above where the NPD sits right now.
Overall, the department requires four additional officers to reach the desired staffing levels.
“In an effort to remain fiscally responsible and work with the city, we recognize, again, that it would be difficult to reach these numbers where we would need to be in the coming year,” Fisher pointed out. “We are requesting a staggered increase over the next three years — and I realize we would revisit this at budget time next year and the year after.”
Fisher felt it could be part of the longer term plan for the city as that plan developed.
In 2022, the NPD was asked what it felt the staffing requirements for the department were, with the number 24 being the figure touted at the time to operate effectively and meet all of those extra demands.
Coming to new budget talks, and considering the increased demands detailed, and the fact they are only asking for two additional officers this year — moving the contingent to 23 — that would put the NPD still behind what was calculated two years ago, Fisher explained.
“I feel we are lagging behind where staffing should be because I think for several years staffing did not keep up with demand,” he said.
When looking at the average overtime paid out each year, as well as earned days off (working over a 40-hour week) and statutory holiday payouts, it works out to an extra $276,500 per year paid out by the City to the NPD. The figure does not include annual leave officers have not been able to take and is carried forward.
“That is over and above what is budgeted,” Fisher said.
If the NPD only grew to 17 or 18 frontline officers, the NPD would still be looking to pay out that amount of overtime or more if it started sending officers off for training sessions and giving out annual leave, neither of which the department has been able to do.
The request is expected to be debated by City council before the final municipal budget is delivered May 15.
The ability to maintain a right sized and efficient workforce allows the NPD to further support physical and mental health of officers through the ability to balance and reduce officer workload, said Fisher.
It also allows the NPD to structure a better work and life balance, including time to actually use their allotted leave.
“This has been one of the issues we have faced in the last few years that has been huge, which is actually getting members their allotted leave,” Fisher said. “They get a decent amount of leave (in the contract) but we are not able to give it to them.”
That balance and leave would reduce the risk of staff shortages caused by stress and fatigue, he added.
The 2015 Peter Lepine Report — a review mandated after the Nelson police board’s request for an increase in resources to the NPD — said the demand on the NPD was growing.
“It is reported that the population (of Nelson) increases by an additional 50 per cent during the daytime hours as the city of Nelson is the largest community in the region which draws many people for work, community services and recreation. This phenomenon is often referred to by both council and the NPD as the ‘core city phenomenon,’” it noted.
But appropriate resources must be available to accommodate gaps that are created from absences due to annual leave, sickness, parental leave, training and court attendance, the report stated.
“Some studies have indicated that absences due to these events places significant pressures just to protect the status quo when it comes to current service delivery. It would appear that in the case of the NPD, there is very little if any capacity to bridge this gap based on their current authorized strength.”
By the numbers
With an authorized strength of 20 police officers — serving a city of 11,467 — the NPD has to handle the second highest crime rate in B.C. (67, Government of B.C., 2022). That rate is based on actual reported criminal activity, which is crimes that were offences against the Criminal Code or another Act.
“(Crime rate) is not complaints about emotionally disturbed persons, overdoses or mental health calls; those don’t factor into the crime rate,” he said. “That is the number of people that would experience a crime out of a 1,000.”
Victoria leads the province at 107, with Nelson second at 67 while Vancouver is 61. Across the province the average is 57.
In 2023, the NPD fielded over 7,000 calls for service, a 17 per cent increase over 2022, coupled with the second highest caseload per officer in B.C. at 43 criminal investigations per officer. Victoria was the highest at 49 while the average for the province was 33.
Research from the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Researcher and Treatment indicates that 45 per cent of first responders in Canada have symptoms consistent with at least one mental health disorder (Vlasveld, 2018).
This value is approximately four times higher than in the general population, with one-third of first responders in Canada having had thoughts of suicide; double the rate in the general population (Vlasveld, 2018).
“Occupational stress is inherent in public safety work largely due to repetitive exposure to traumatic events, burnout and compassion fatigue,” said Dr. Mini Mamak, forensic psychologist.
Source: Nelson Police Department