(This column was published in the North Shore News on July 7, 1999)

 

RCMP face critical manpower short fall

By Leo Knight

THE RCMP manpower shortages are now becoming critical and even the Vancouver Sun has noticed.  

 

Monday's Sun had a front page story saying the vacancies are beginning to hamper criminal investigations.  

 

We have discussed the problem in this space in the past and it would now seem that the worst-case scenario has come to pass.  

 

In January, I said the RCMP was artificially creating a shortfall of 500 police officers in order to meet budgetary restrictions imposed by their masters, the faceless Treasury Board bureaucrats.  

 

According to RCMP spokesman Grant Learned, only partway through the fiscal year which began April 1, the number of vacancies is now 430, give or take a couple. The force should easily reach the 500 target before the month is over.  

 

Trouble is what happens when they seriously overshoot that mark, as it now seems certain to happen.  

 

According to Learned, the attrition rate the RCMP is currently coping with is 20 to 30 experienced police officers leaving every month. This doesn't include those who go on long-term disability, maternity leave, suspension or even to be international cops in Kosovo or Bosnia.  

 

On May 25, Commissioner Phillip Murray appeared before the federal Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. He deftly ducked, dived and dodged questions from West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast MP John Reynolds.  

 

Murray tried to soft-pedal the shortages by saying a 2% to 3% vacancy rate is normal. He went on to describe the current problem as "around 200 vacancies out of a resource allocation of something in the neighbourhood of 6,000 is fairly routine."  

 

Murray continued, "So generally speaking, you tend to run a vacancy pattern of 2% to 3% across the board over time. Where that 2% to 3% is left, of course, is a decision for the local division command to determine."  

 

All very well if the commissioner was not misleading the MPs. In the first place, Murray padded the overall strength by over 500 positions. The authorized strength of B.C. Mounties is approximately 5,500, including what are called federal positions such as Customs and Excise, Immigration and Passport and Drug sections.  

 

The usual vacancy rate of 200 is true. But those are the long-term sick, maternity leaves, leaves without pay, suspensions and the like.  

 

The additional 230 seems to have been ignored by the commissioner in explaining the problem to the justice committee. In other words, add the 200 to the 230 and divide that into the real authorized strength and the figure is almost 10%. And growing by the month.  

 

A quick check of detachments around the Lower Mainland confirmed that figure. Even in North Vancouver the figure is 9%. So despite Commissioner Murray's verbal agility, he isn't telling the truth.  

 

Reynolds tried to clarify the problem in a letter written to Murray on May 26. When he didn't receive a response, he had his staff contact Murray's office on June 16 to find out why. Murray's executive assistant said, "The commissioner doesn't care to respond," according to the staffer who made the call.  

 

So Reynolds wrote to Solicitor General Lawrence MacAuley on June 21. Funnily enough, Reynolds received a reply from Murray on June 29. In it Murray stated, "I read your letter of May 26 when it arrived and have read it again. My interpretation may be incorrect, but I still do not see where you asked for a response."  

 

"The tone of your letter was such that I did not believe you expected a response. In any event, I will now respond because you have expressed that expectation."  

 

Translation: I didn't like your tone so I was going to ignore you until my boss told me I had to write back.  

 

So if I've got this right, Murray fudged his response to the justice committee, which is made up of MPs from all parties and which by law Murray must answer to.  

 

One of the members of that committee wrote to Murray citing specific concerns from members of the public and requesting clarification of misleading statements apparently made by Murray. And the commissioner simply chose to ignore the MP until ordered to reply.  

 

This guy's so arrogant he could run for Prime Minister. Or Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police. Apparently there's an opening.  

 

The trouble with all this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. The cops on the street at detachment level have to make do with less.  

 

They have to work harder to carry the extra load. The public are no longer getting the service they were used to from the Mounties because of the shortages. Practical decisions have to be made to determine what calls will no longer be attended to by a police officer, which crimes will no longer be investigated.  

 

In Coquitlam, for example, all bicycle patrol officers and community police station constables have been returned to uniform in patrol cars. In North Vancouver, the school liaison officers have been returned to uniform patrol for the summer and the patrol boat will remain ashore.  

 

Learned responded to this situation saying, "We can't fill the national commitment to community policing and still fulfil front line service requirements." That means your calls to 9-1-1. And, lest you forget, the federal government tabled a budget this year with a $17 billion surplus. Maybe the RCMP should apply for a grant saying they are gay, one-legged, Nigerian stewardesses.

 

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