Thursday, September 04, 2008

Local RCMP feeling the pressure of staff shortages

As Prince Rupert’s crime statistics reach ten year highs in a number of categories, perhaps it may finally be time for the City to revisit their strategy of holding the level of staffing down from its traditional strength of 36.

Tuesday’s Daily News presented a front page headline story that outlined the challenges that the day to day operations of the local detachment are operating under. With the 29 members that work out of the Prince Rupert office handling a high level of cases that places them within the top ten of hardest working detachments in the province.

With the current vandalism sprees key among the many concerns of Rupertites, the fact that the local force is limited to its responses, due to the short staffing is something that should be addressed and explained by council.

The Daily News story provides an interesting look at the workload of the city’s constables and provides a pretty solid bit of research as to why a return to full staffing might be quite beneficial for the community.

It may not knock down the rate of crime in the community; the reasons for that spike in numbers are probably much more varied than just the number of officers on patrol.

But increasing to the approved force level would at least share the load of the cases that they handle on a nightly basis and reduce the potential for burn out from the front line patrols. Cost cutting on an essential service as this, hasn’t apparently been very successful in this instance and instead seems to have made a bad situation that much worse.

Staff shortage makes it tough for RCMP to handle their case-load
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Pages one and five

With the crime rate in Prince Rupert at a ten-year high, Prince Rupert RCMP report their workforce is being stretched thin with one of the highest caseload burdens in the province.

The 29 RCMP members currently working out of the municipal detachment are operating on an annual average of 123 Criminal Code cases per member, placing them among the top ten hardest working municipal forces in British Columbia.

“Our workload has gone up astronomically,” said Staff Sergeant Jim Vardy.

“In 2006 we were at 109 cases, but now we’re at 123 per member.

“We have an approved force of 36, but we’re only operating with 29 members right now, and in 2005 and 2006 there were only 28.

“Which means our policing model has to change from proactive to reactive.”

With maximized case burden, the Prince Rupert RCMP has minimal ability to have officers working with youth, conducting foot and bike patrols, and other proactive work that many communities can afford. What Staff Sgt. Vardy also noted is that the 29 members working out of the municipal detachment includes police administrative staff, meaning the average caseload for Constables is probably higher than 123.

“The Watch Commanders and Corporals don’t take as many files as the Constables on the road since they’re supervising five or six Constable’s police work, so the actual member on the road has an average caseload much higher than what’s reported,” said Staff Sgt. Vardy.

“I’d say our Constables are probably around 150 per year.

“And that’s only the Criminal Code, and doesn’t include drug files, picking up intoxicated peoples, traffic accidents, or just assisting the general public.”

Most of the time there are only five RCMP members working, and nearly every incident reported to police requires the response of two members, which severely limits the ability of Prince Rupert RCMP to respond to complaints in a timely manner. In addition, violent crimes and ‘persons offences’ always get priority, which means on a busy night with numerous assaults property crimes are at the bottom of the list.

Fortunately the Prince Rupert RCMP municipal force does get support from the staff at the North District office, including the federal drug and marine units, when there are local emergencies such as bomb threats or gas leaks.

Staff Sgt. Vardy said he is also in the process of submitting an application to get four additional Aboriginal Policing members in Prince Rupert, which would enable the force to increase their proactive presence in the community.

“They wouldn’t be responding to calls their job would be to work with the various Aboriginal communities within the city of Prince Rupert,” said Staff. Sgt. Vardy.

“Through organizations like the Friendship House and programs like Planet Youth, they would be responsible for enhanced policing which include drug and violence awareness programs,” said Vardy.

“We have six positions right now in our outlying communities of Lax Kw’alaams and Hartley Bay, but right now there’s a freeze on all those positions.

“What we’re doing now is getting our ducks in a row so that when the government takes the freeze off those positions we’ll already be in the queue.”

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