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B.C. small-town mayors question how RCMP cuts will affect rural communities

The head of the South Okanagan Similkameen RCMP detachment said the spending cuts will not impact public safety. File

Mayors in small B.C. Interior communities with provincial policing contracts are questioning how RCMP cuts to address budget overruns will affect service delivery in their towns.

The BC RCMP is facing a financial shortfall of $10.7 million, leading RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan to order cuts to overtime, travel expenses, non-mandatory training and equipment and administrative costs.

Small, rural detachments will be hit hardest. The RCMP said the spending cuts will affect the “provincial business line,” which is the budget that covers 2,600 officers working in small detachments across B.C. with populations of under 5,000 people.

READ MORE: B.C. RCMP facing financial shortfall of more than $10M, prompting cuts to some services

In municipalities under the 5,000 population threshold, the province pays 70 per cent of policing costs while the municipality pays 30 per cent.

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Municipal contracts between the RCMP and larger cities like Surrey, Prince George, Kelowna and Nanaimo will not be impacted by the cuts.

Keremeos, B.C., Mayor Manfred Bauer said he’s arranged a meeting with local member of Parliament Dan Albas and Cpl. Brian Evans, who is the head of the Keremeos RCMP detachment.

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“We will be discussing what exactly that means when it comes to your basic service delivery. Certainly, it is never good when you cut a budget when it comes to our police services.”

Bauer said Keremeos is served by its maximum contingent of five police officers. The detachment has struggled to respond to crime late at night and in the early morning hours due to a lack of policing coverage. He said the detachment could be further squeezed with reductions to overtime spending.

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READ MORE: Crime wave in Oliver, B.C. has business owners frustrated, demanding action

“Addressing crime that happens in the early morning hours and late hours is always difficult. Our local RCMP has adjusted to switch around daytime to nighttime shifts to address that issue but there will never be 100 per cent coverage.”

Oliver, B.C., Mayor Martin Johansen said he is also concerned about cutbacks to operational overtime at the local detachment.

“We are second behind Penticton and well ahead of Summerland, Osoyoos, Keremeos and Princeton and I think operational overtime here is one way that the local RCMP are managing the workload here.”

Johansen said he plans to reach out to local RCMP brass to ask how much overtime will be cut back and the impacts it will have in Oliver.

READ MORE: ‘It’s unacceptable’ — New Oliver mayor vows to tackle crime in wake of shocking stats

The municipality is requesting two additional police officers to manage heightened call volume responding to incidents at the newly opened Okanagan Correctional Centre just outside of town.

“It is very clear there is support for two additional police officers but the financing is just not there for us,” he said.

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Staff Sgt. Bob Vatamaniuck of the South Okanagan Similkameen Regional RCMP Detachment said the spending reduction measures will not impact public safety.

“The RCMP management team here in South Okanagan will reflect, analyze and forecast the impact of any budgetary concerns,” he said in a statement to Global News.

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“Such things as enhanced training, non-essential equipment and in-person conference attendance will be examined and potentially delayed until the fiscal situation stabilizes.”

Vatamaniuck said any impact on its core operations will be minimized as much as possible.

READ MORE: Large increase in policing costs coming in Osoyoos

“Simply put, we will continue to fight crime and ensure the safety of our communities with the same vigour and core values we have always exhibited,” he said.

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RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts said no services, programs or units have been reduced or cut, including the integrated homicide investigation team (IHIT) and the anti-gang combined forces special enforcement unit (CFSEU).

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Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said budgetary constraints and inflationary increases have been managed by the RCMP for years through financial management controls.

“The impacts are now becoming increasingly difficult for RCMP to manage, and we are working with them to address the pressure and to find solutions that do not affect public safety,” Farnworth said.

–With files from Sean Boynton 

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