(This column was published in the North Shore News on April 14, 1999)

 

Funding cuts erode police effectiveness

By Leo Knight

WHEN Mountie budgets were cut in the latter part of this last fiscal year as a result of a systemic screw-up by senior brass in Ottawa, the locals were forced to tie up the patrol boats, ground the choppers and planes and even turn off their cell phones on days that weren't free.  

 

A freeze was put on all "non-emergent" overtime. Concern about service reduction to the public was inevitably voiced.  

 

Our erstwhile federal Solicitor General, the hapless Andy Scott, was put on the grill by opposition MPs for several days. Scott, who couldn't keep his mouth shut at 20,000 feet and paid for his resulting lack of memory with his job, said at the time in response to the criticism, "there is no risk to public safety. I have every confidence in the RCMP's capacity to give Canada the same police protection they have for 125 years."  

 

As April 1 approached marking the start of the new fiscal year, there was significant optimism that the new budget would address the needs of the RCMP and the belt could be let out to more comfortable levels. Especially in view of the record-setting budget surplus recorded by the fiscally prudent finance minister, Paul Martin, said to be the prime minister in waiting.  

 

Alas, this now appears not to be the case.  

 

The first sign of the frightening new trend shows itself in a March 29 memo emanating from the desk of assistant commissioner Raymond Mercier in Ottawa.  

 

In the memo obtained by the North Shore News, Mercier talks about making "difficult decisions" in the coming year and the need to cut 40 operational positions.  

 

"When there is no new money coming in, cuts must be made within the existing envelope to support the remaining positions," said Mercier.  

 

He goes on to talk about "minimum impacts" when making changes involving cuts, but "it will be impossible to accomplish this without some impact on front-line service delivery."  

 

Mercier indicates in the memo that final decisions on the cuts have yet to be made. However, he discusses some of the possibilities which include a reduction of officers in areas such as Countersurveillance, VIP Security and the Emergency Response Team.  

 

More concerning, perhaps, are the potential cuts, according to the memo, in Drug Section, Special "O" and Federal Enforcement -- all sections involved in the fight against organized crime.  

 

Yet somehow, in a great leap of logic, Mercier follows that up with the following statement: "These changes will also serve as an opportunity to better address our fight against organized crime, starting with the addition of a position in Commercial Crime to address high tech crime issues."  

 

He goes on to trumpet "new specific funding for crimes against humanity will allow the addition of five positions to our War Crimes Unit."  

 

What sense can we make of this?  

 

Now, leaving aside the potential political correctness of those last two paragraphs, it should be understood that Mercier is the commanding officer of "A" Division, which is comprised of Ottawa, the capital region and the surrounding environs.  

 

But in the memo Mercier says, "each of the other sectors ... as well as "C" (Quebec) and "O" (the rest of Ontario) Divisions, are all faced with the same reductions."  

 

B.C. represents approximately 30% of the manpower allocation of the RCMP. With the budgetary cutbacks referred to by Mercier in Central Canada which represents approximately another 25%, is B.C. facing the same measures?  

 

The answer to that question proved hard to determine. Locally, the Mounties are bracing for just such an event. "E" Division, as B.C. is known within the force, is already over 300 members short.  

 

Sources tell me that a plan exists at senior levels to artificially maintain the manpower shortfall at 500 to control the budget. Out of a total strength of 4,000 this represents over 12%.  

 

Understand this figure clearly when contemplating how the police force -- our police force -- can maintain the same service levels with more than 12% fewer people.  

 

Surrey detachment, along with North Vancouver, considered one of the "Big Five" postings, has been developing a program termed, in a wonderful example of bureaucratese, "revision of differential call response."  

 

Now, English is my first language. And personally, I have a fairly good vocabulary. Individually, I understand the meaning of each of those words. But really, what does "revision of differential call response" mean?  

 

After a few phone calls, the meaning became clear. Surrey is trying to determine just which calls from the public the police used to respond to will be treated differently. In other words, the public can expect reduced service levels from the police.  

 

The problem is created because the local Mounties are granted their budget from the federal Treasury Board. The faceless bureaucratic bean-counters in Ottawa, who wouldn't know a home invasion from a gang shooting, determine what resources should be allocated in British Columbia to fight crime.  

 

In order to get fiscal increases, the RCMP management have to present "business case arguments" to Treasury.  

 

Doesn't that just give you a warm, fuzzy, safe feeling all over?  

 

The Mercier memo dares speak of a reduction in service levels. A realistic fact the Liberal government refuses to acknowledge publicly.  

 

He may be speaking about what is happening in Ottawa, but make no mistake about it, his words ring as true here in your neighbourhood.  

 

Now, undoubtedly, the actions and decisions by Mercier are being forced upon him by the Liberal government.  

 

With record surplus reserves, the Libs are holding back on funding to the RCMP. While this may be arguably laudable in tough economic times, such as were faced when the Liberals took over from the cash-strapped Conservatives in 1993, it is unconscionable to withhold appropriate funding and resources when there is available money.  

 

The protection of the citizenry should be the first priority of the government. Efficient and appropriate management of allocated resources should be the first duty of senior police management. The Mercier memo indicates both are failing.

 

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