RCMP shortage in rural Yukon

Increasing demands and thinly stretched resources are hampering the RCMP's ability to police Yukon communities.

Increasing demands and thinly stretched resources are hampering the RCMP’s ability to police Yukon communities.

“I don’t think we’re adequately resourced for the population and caseload here,” said Watson Lake Mayor Nancy Moore.

Police are dealing with problems on several fronts, said Yukon RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Roger Lockwood.

“We have demands in terms of housing, we have demands in terms of our detachments in terms of meeting new federal legislations,” he said.

And, because of the police staffing crunch, the Association of Yukon Communities recently passed a resolution pushing for more officers in community detachments.

“The numbers of RCMP in the communities has been growing as the population’s been increasing, but there have been noted difficulties,” said Bev Buckway, association president.

Part of the problem is a change in policy designed to safeguard community-based Mounties.

Responding to a rash of police killings in rural communities in December 2007, the RCMP implemented a new policy requiring “multi-member response” to any potentially violent call.

The policy was not matched with any increase in funding, placing particular strain on smaller detachments containing only two or three officers.

“You have new regulations but you don’t have the funding to meet the manpower needs,” said Carmacks Mayor Elaine Wyatt.

Officers now have to log more hours both on call and on standby.

In three-officer detachments, “if you have one officer on leave, then that means you’re down to two officers, which means that those two officers are virtually tied to the community,” said Wyatt.

In two-officer detachments, like Beaver Creek and Pelly Crossing, leaving town for even half an hour requires a “relief” RCMP officer to be brought in as a substitute.

Only two such relief officers serve the Yukon territory.

“They’re tied to their community, that’s for sure,” said Watson Lake detachment commander Sgt. Paul Thalhofer.

“You can’t expect these guys to be married to the community 24/7 for the rest of their life,” said Wyatt.

Paying for increased standby has been a “strain” on RCMP budgets, said Thalhofer.

Per capita, Watson Lake is the Yukon’s busiest RCMP detachment, yet it has been short-staffed “for years,” said Moore.

Officers face not only a daunting number of police calls, but they also find themselves subbing in for the under-resourced ambulance service.

“Sometimes they call on the RCMP to go and check out a situation to see if it’s really an ambulance call—but that’s not their job,” said Moore.

RCMP officers “do the best they can with what they have,” lack of resources relegates the policing to a “reactive, rather than proactive” role, said Moore.

“Public education, all that stuff, kind of falls by the wayside because they’re on calls,” she said.

“You can always do more with more,” said Lockwood.

Even if Watson Lake received a full complement of officers—it would not have the space to house them.

As it is, Watson Lake’s existing RCMP housing is “aging” and in serious need of renovation, said Moore.

“I don’t think it’s just a Yukon thing, I’m sure a lot of the other northern communities are noticing it, or even the remote southern communities,” said Wyatt.

RCMP advocates have criticized Ottawa’s “anti-crime” stance as hypocritical.

While the government has passed reams of new legislation, little has been done to improve policing.

Last June, the federal government promised a 3.5 per cent pay raise for RCMP members in 2009.

In December, the federal Treasury Board suddenly cut the raise to 1.5 per cent for both years.

“From coast to coast, members of the RCMP are disillusioned following this breakdown of trust with the Harper government,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Roach, an RCMP staff relations spokesperson.

Yukon-wide, the RCMP has 122 officers, 24 civilians and 36 support staff.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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