(This column was published in the North Shore News on April 24, 2002)

 

Cop education too costly

 By Leo Knight

A few weeks back I made a bold prediction in this space that, faced with $700,000 in budget cuts, the Justice Institute of B.C. (JI) would begin charging police recruits for their initial training.

 

Well, all right, given the rumblings of the jungle drums and one or two internal documents which may have found their way into brown envelopes and under my door, perhaps I might have had some insight. Guilty. But the story is now out there in the mainstream and is causing much consternation in the policing community.

 

Essentially, each of the municipal police agencies, West Vancouver among them, are now faced with a recruiting and budgetary dilemma. How to compete for qualified recruits if they are asking them to buck up for their own training?

 

As things stand, the JI is asking each recruit to cough up $7,200 for their training. It is anticipated this will increase to $10,000 in short order. Individual departments had to consider whether to pay that fee or perhaps front the money to recruits for later payroll deduction.

 

At least, I should say, that was on the table. I'm told a couple of chiefs, leading somewhat budget-challenged departments, managed to get all the municipal chiefs to agree not to front the money for training recruits so as not to put any one department at a disadvantage.

 

They decided to simply leave would-be cops to find their own money from whatever resources they might have.

 

My concern in all of this has much to do with who in police departments has been fighting the battles against crime, and protecting the rest of us. Allow me to explain.

 

I had the pleasure of serving in two police organizations; first in the RCMP and then in the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). I have seen it from both sides, so to speak. Many of my peers have either already retired from active policing or are on the cusp of it in the next few years.

 

It is those of us, hired in the big boom of the 1970s, who are now at this stage. Each year as I go to the annual retirement dinner honouring members of the VPD as they end their careers, the number of people at the head table grows, seemingly exponentially.

 

Equally, there are a number of junior members being attracted to both Calgary and Edmonton police services who are being aggressive in their recruiting. (Neither department requires that recruits pay for training, either.) So too is the RCMP, which is scrambling to make up for the staffing backsliding done since the mid-1990s.

 

West Vancouver Police Department (WVPD) has lost about 20 to 25 per cent of its members over the course of the last year or so. Thus far they have been able to keep up the attrition requirements. Just.

 

What happens to WVPD now that the situation at the JI has changed?

 

At least some of the departing members of WVPD have left for other police jobs because of some of the duties they are now being asked to do. Jobs once done by the bylaw enforcement officers.

 

So, now they have to get recruits to pay for their own training; how might this further affect their ability to attract and keep new police officers? Someone in West Vancouver, already trained and certified, perhaps unhappy with having to attend nuisance calls, might be a real catch for, say, Abbotsford or Delta police departments, which would undoubtedly be a heck of a lot closer to where many WVPD members actually live.

 

The budget constraints will have a real effect on VPD as well. With police officers required to have post-secondary education as well as having to pay for their police training, it might well be argued that only the "high fliers," or the well-heeled, with high career expectations will go through the process.

 

Where will the street cops come from?

 

The men and women who are prepared to fight in the mud, the blood and the beer? Who will get down and dirty in the mean streets, prepared to take the risk of getting stuck with a dirty needle when searching a prisoner? The backbone of any police force is the officers who don't mind getting their noses dirty.

 

Let's be realistic. If someone spends $10,000 to $20,000 on an education to enhance their career expectations, they believe they will get a chance to run things. They don't anticipate being a foot soldier very long. So, where will the foot soldiers come from?

 

Policing is an incredibly tough and dangerous job done by very dedicated men and women. Some decisions might seem obvious at first blush, but this one needs a serious re-think. It is all about saving $700,000. I doubt the immediate saving to the taxpayer is worth the long-term cost to the safety of the public at large and the health of the organizations responsible for that safety.

 

-30-

 

 

 

Primetimecrime current headlines               Columns 2002