A municipal councillor and former RCMP officer is speaking out about police response times in rural parts of Nova Scotia.
Michael Gregory served more than 25 years as an RCMP officer, including as the head of the former RCMP detachment in Tatamagouche, N.S.
Since 2012, Gregory has represented District 7 in Colechester County, which includes the Village of Tatmagouche. He says it takes too long for police officers to respond to calls in the area.
“This is not new,” Gregory said Friday during an interview, adding that for “at least a decade the response time has been too long.”
’45 minutes is a long time’
Gregory retired from the RCMP in 1996 and says the force made the switch to district-based policing in the early 2000s. Once the change was made, Gregory says the RCMP office in Tatamagouche was closed and police “moved everybody over the mountain to Bible Hill.”
Gregory says because of the way policing is done now, RCMP officers who work in the Municipality of Colchester are based in Bible Hill, N.S. He says officers could be in Stewiacke, Brookfield or even Five Islands when they get an emergency call elsewhere in the county.
For example, Gregory says if an officer is in Brookfield or Stewiacke, it’s at least a 45-minute drive for them to get to their call in the Tatamagouche area.
“Forty-five minutes is a long time when you’re looking for a police officer to help you,” he said.
In response, the RCMP says the Colchester District RCMP is continually evaluating service delivery options and allocates coverage based on peak demands.
“We appreciate the concerns brought forward and want to reassure citizens Colchester District RCMP has plans in place to address various scenarios and events across the district,” said Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in an emailed statement.
“Our officers are available to respond 24/7.”
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‘There’s nobody here anymore’
Gregory says he has called the police “numerous times” over the years and sometimes waited hours for someone to respond.
“There’s nobody here anymore,” he said.
Gregory recalls one situation when he witnessed a two-vehicle collision in front of the post office in Tatamagouche and called police.
He says it took an officer one hour and five minutes to arrive on the scene of the crash because they were tied up with another matter.
Clarke says RCMP work closely with the municipality to plan policing coverage.
“In a District this size, the length of time to respond can be based on a number of factors including distance to travel to the call location and number of officers available to respond based on what is occurring at the time,” she said.
“As an example any time of the day, Colchester District RCMP could be responding to a priority call in one end of the detachment area, then be required to attend a call in the other extreme end of the detachment area.”
Officers ‘can only do as much as they can’
Gregory says he is “beating himself up” that the response times are so long and that no police officers are stationed in the community.
He says it would be preferable to go back to community policing but doesn’t expect it to happen since it’s a cost-saving measure.
Gregory says the village of Tatamagouche cannot afford to have their own police office in operation. In fact, he says it costs the Municipality of Colchester more than $4 million annually for the police services they have now.
Gregory says he feels bad for the police officers in the region who “can only do as much as they can” with their resources.
“It’s unfortunate this is the way Ottawa or somebody feels this is the way they’re going to do policing in Canada,” said Gregory, adding that New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are in a similar situation.
Nova Scotia Department of Justice Minister Mark Furey says RCMP are responsible for deploying resources in rural areas and calls it a challenge.
“We’re certainly familiar with the police service delivery model in rural Nova Scotia. It’s a model that is applied right across Canada outside of our urban centre and it’s certainly a challenge to have police presences 24/7,” Furey said.
“There’s a number of factors that got into the scheduling of resource, geography, population, crime trends, those types of elements that play a part of the scheduling and availability, presence, location of resources.”
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People want to feel protected
On Sunday, RCMP were called to the community of Bayhead, just outside Tatmagouche, where they found the body of Susie Butlin inside her home on Clarks Road.
It’s alleged Butlin was killed by her neighbour, Ernie “Junior” Ross Duggan, who was later injured during a shootout with police.
Duggan is now facing charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the incident.
When asked about Butlin’s death, Gregory said even if there were officers “sitting around the corner,” it may not have changed anything.
However, he feels people would feel safer if there was a stronger police presence.
“People want to feel like they’re being looked after, being protected,” said Gregory.
“People would feel more secure if they could look out the window and see a police car driving by.”