(This column was published in the North Shore News on Nov. 10, 1999)


Invest surplus in police

By Leo Knight

FEDERAL Finance Minister Paul Martin is ruminating on how best to spend an anticipated $67 billion in budgetary surplus over the next five years.  


Editorials across the country are also engaging in speculation on what this government will do, with most predicting a spending spree that would make Glen Clark blush.  


Last week, news broke that 30% of the RCMP in British Columbia have not qualified this year on their firearms. News reports quoted New Westminster police sergeant Ivan Chu saying his department would not let an unqualified officer on the road.  


Technically, the RCMP have the same policy. Technically.  


But that was before the finance minister got all his extra money.  


All police officers need to qualify annually to demonstrate their proficiency with their weapons.  


This is part of the ongoing training of every member of the police service, including the RCMP. This was, you'll recall, a major argument in the disarming of the police auxiliary.  


But two years ago, when the RCMP fell into budget problems, a number of things occurred to cut costs, which continue to affect their operations to this day and will for the foreseeable future.  


First, the training academy in Regina was closed for several months. When it reopened, it had to scale up operations to get to full speed, which took several more months. This was coupled with a deliberate, artificially created shortage of manpower.  


It used to be that the police operated on a minimum strength basis. Essentially this meant that each police shift had to field a mandated minimum number of police officers required to answer calls for service.  


For example, if a specific watch or team had 20 officers assigned to it, and had a minimum assignation of 12, then they could never go below that number. They usually fielded 16 or 17 officers and rarely, only rarely, did the shift go down to its minimum.  


Now the minimum is the norm and the police are having to scramble to meet that.  


The effect is quite simple. It takes longer to get the police to come if you need them, and they have to postpone, or cancel entirely, some programs, projects and other measures to combat crime proactively just to meet their basic service functions.  


Then you get to the overtime budget.  


When they have to scramble to meet minimums, often it means calling someone in on a day off and that translates into overtime pay. Overtime used up in this fashion takes away budgeted money from other operational areas.  


Many squads have already used up or surpassed their allotted overtime for this fiscal year, which does not end until March 30.  


All of this, by the way, includes our own police detachment.  


North Vancouver is not immune to the fallout.  


With five months left in the fiscal year, North Van's burglary squad, for example, has no overtime budget remaining.  


The problem then translates into issues like training, which brings us back to the police officers who have not qualified on their weapons.  


To qualify, an officer has to spend a full day at the firing range.  


With squads running at minimums, they cannot do this during a scheduled workday. The solution is to bring the officer in on a day off.  


Sorry, but that then means overtime. But there isn't any overtime available in the budget. No overtime, no extra manpower, no training. Result: unqualified police officers on the streets breaking the Mounties' own policy.  


The whole situation is dreadful.  


Paul Martin and the Liberals have a boatload of extra money stolen from the taxpayers as columnist Diane Francis said in the Financial Post.  


Martin waxes philosophically about the benefits of tax cuts over debt repayment. He is being courted by all manner of special interest groups looking for government handouts. All the while the police, whose job is to protect the public, are being choked to death by diminishing dollars.


I'm not talking about opening the vaults for the RCMP. On the contrary, it too is a bureaucratic organization that suffers all the same problems as any other bureaucracy when it has a surplus of public dollars. But, surely, the treasury board could spare $10 or $12 million to solve the overtime problem and a few other little operational difficulties the budget crunch has caused.  


Little things like cellular phones being taken away from street officers. Cars that don't get fixed when they should. Replacement police cars being delayed to save a few bucks. Stuff like that.  


I'm not talking about a huge increase in public spending. Just stop nickel and dime-ing the police to death.  


I, like most Canadians, support financial prudence in our government. When the list of public accounts is scrutinized my blood boils at the insane waste of taxpayer dollars.  


Equally, I go nuts when governments shell out money to politically correct special interest groups simply to court votes.  


But, I cannot understand the mentality of police staffing shortages, broken or old equipment, inadequate training and a host of other problems created by the budgetary crunch imposed on the RCMP by treasury.  


Monday's Vancouver Sun did a feature on the crime rates in B.C. and why we lead the rest of the country. We contract the services of over 40% of the RCMP.  


You'd almost think we could get Paul Martin to peek over the Rockies and notice there is a problem here.  






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