Some city mayors across B.C. are praising Premier David Eby’s plan to bring the RCMP back up to full-strength, saying they’ve been dealing with chronic understaffing for years but, until now, haven’t had their voices heard by the province.
The announcement, which includes $230 million to hire hundreds of new RCMP officers, has resonated especially well in the City of Trail, which, along with three other small municipalities in southeastern B.C. has an RCMP detachment with the second-lowest staffing level in the province.
“I believe rural B.C. has been struggling with this for a long time,” mayor Colleen Jones said in an interview.
“So I’m excited about this, and I know our community will be too.”
The money will not only fill 277 vacancies in the RCMP, but will also help bolster regional policing units in areas like major crime, child exploitation, highway traffic and money laundering.
“Part of the public services people rely on in quickly growing communities are police officers,” said Eby.
“That’s part of what we need to do to ensure public safety. We need those staffing resources to make sure that people can rely on services, when they call 9-1-1, that police will be able to respond.”
The funding comes with a particular emphasis on rural B.C., where smaller communities have dealt with chronic-understaffing of RCMP detachments due to recruitment problems, illness and underfunding at a provincial level.
“It’s really bad,” said Jones. “We’re supposed to have 22 officers, and we have eight. It’s been a struggle for our community.”
When a community is short of officers, those police aren’t able to walk the beat, meet residents, act as school liaisons, conduct traffic enforcement, respond to lower-priority calls or take part in the kind of community policing that helps bolster public confidence.
That dovetails with a visible increase in tent encampments, homelessness, random assaults and the addictions and overdose crisis to create a feeling of unease on municipal streets.
“It means our community is not feeling secure right now, not feeling secure on the streets, the businesses are struggling and we have a very high homeless population in our downtown core,” said Jones.
“When I was on the (municipal) campaign trail, that’s what people said to me is they want to feel safe on their streets again, and secure in their community. I understand that.”
Towns and cities have been complaining about the issue for years, and the concern often peaks at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Meeting each fall.
“We have heard from local governments, UBCM, about challenges in terms of policing in smaller communities, rural communities, but also on our provincewide basis in our specialized teams,” said Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
“That’s a challenge we have been working on… it is going to significantly help many of those small communities that have been to us at UBCM.”
Opposition BC Liberal critic Mike Morris, who was a former senior officer in the BC RCMP, called it “long overdue.” The Liberals though have questioned why the B.C. NDP, now in its fifth year in power, have failed to properly fund the RCMP until now.
Morris said the funding commitment over three years means it could be awhile before those mayors see a visible difference.
“This is good, but it’s all political… it doesn’t go nearly far enough,” he said.
“It’s nice they are addressing it now, but it’s misleading the public into thinking there is going to be immediate relief to a lot of the public safety woes we are seeing across the province now. That’s definitely not the case. It takes time to train RCMP members, bring them into the field, then give them six to eight months in field training.”
More mental health-police teams needed
Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells said his city has tried to address policing staff shortfalls by revamping bylaws in conjunction with RCMP input. But the real solution, he said, is more funding for joint police and civilian mental health teams — something Eby announced $3 million towards as part of his public safety package two days after his swearing in.
“Like many communities across our province and nation, the disorder that people are witnessing now that they may not have seen before when it comes to the unhoused, affordability, and housing is absolutely pushing people to the brink,” he said.
“You have a toxic drug supply that’s causing more and more psychotic episodes and those kinds of things that have developed into a perfect storm during the pandemic. So we’ve seen such a huge increase. When I talked to mayors across the province its something we’re seeing everywhere.”