RCMP faces recruit shortage amid push for local policing services

Amid a push from the prairies to replace the RCMP with local policing, the federal agency needs more staff nationwide. According to the Western Standard, the force is short 1,234 officers as of June 2022.

RCMP face recruit shortage amid push for local policing services
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Among provinces that contract police, British Columbia has the most vacancies at 460. However, its 8% vacancy rate trails that of the Northwest Territories at 11.7%, missing 24 officers. Saskatchewan's 113 vacancies represent an 8.7% rate, and Newfoundland and Labrador's 35 vacancies equal 7.9%. 

When Saskatchewan tabled its Firearms Act late last year — to protect residing gun owners from creeping federal overreach, Public Safety Minister Christine Tell said that Ottawa has it wrong on gun safety by targeting responsible firearm owners instead of criminals.

While the RCMP is under contract as the province's police force until 2032, Ottawa can direct them to seize firearms. However, she said they could not receive money from the federal government to confiscate firearms. 

"We, as a province, fund the RCMP to the tune of 70%."

When asked whether that could include defunding the RCMP, Tell articulated all options were on the table. 

"[Things] could get more interesting."

Former Mountie Larry Comeau, who retired in 2001, said the RCMP's recruiting ability never used to be this much of a struggle.

"I used to work on evaluating attrition rates [for] the RCMP in the 1980s. I was amazed at just how steady it was. Most members stayed at least 25 years when they were eligible to get 50% of their pension. Then gradually, as married members were hired, the age went from 19-25 for recruits to 27 and higher, meaning more members were not serving for 25 years. Therefore, attrition rates escalated," said Comeau.

"[Recently], recruiters were re-examining 'rejected applicants.' Imagine the RCMP that used to have a backlog of applicants because of its storied reputation, now having to hire a recruiting firm!"

Tell previously wrote Saskatchewan RCMP's head officer, Rhonda Blackmore, stressing that she would no longer provide resources to aid the policing group amid fears of firearms confiscation by the federal government. 

In May 2020, Parliament passed an Order-in-Council banning 1,500 assault-style firearms and distinguishing components of newly prohibited firearms. Initially, owners had until October 2023 to comply with the law, but the feds have indefinitely delayed the amnesty period.

Her federal counterpart, Minister Marco Mendicino, characterized the position as "irresponsible" for not prioritizing safety.

Tell clarified:

We take public safety seriously and support initiatives that reduce the criminal use of firearms while preventing gang violence and stopping illegal guns from entering our province.

Amid ongoing lulls in recruitment, the RCMP has used theatre advertisements to drive recruits to apply to the force. But Comeau said they needed the draw they had before.

Soon after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki embraced the idea that the RCMP is "systemically racist," despite holding some initial reservations.

"I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. I should have," wrote Lucki in a statement.

The policing group's website now outlines the group's intent to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace amid ongoing sexual harassment suits and pay disputes. 

"This has been a growing problem. Contributing factors have been the internal problems within the RCMP coupled with pay levels below those of most other large Canadian police organizations. The class action [sexual harassment] civil suits also sent the wrong message to would-be female applicants. The racism within the RCMP is another concerning issue," said Comeau.

"With the problems over the past few decades, the RCMP is less attractive than it once was. So, coupled with higher attrition rates, replacing those leaving has become a serious problem. Many of those looking for a policing career are looking at provincial and municipal departments which pay better than the RCMP and do not require moving."

Grande Prairie city council voted on Tuesday to replace the RCMP with a municipal police force.

In February, the Alberta government pledged $9.7 million to help cover transitional costs over the next two years that are expected to total $19 million.

While the National Police Service labelled the decision as "politically motivated," Alberta's Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis claimed the RCMP is "an arm of the state…rather [than] an extension of the communities they serve."

Comeau added that enforcing public health orders during the COVID pandemic likely encouraged early retirement or discouraged others from applying to the RCMP. The PoliceOnGuard.ca website published an open letter from "concerned law enforcement officers of Alberta" describing their moral problem.

"It's a tough position for sure. Do they obey the instructions of their superiors to enforce the restrictions? In obeying what are likely to be unlawful orders, do they understand that they may, ultimately, be committing an offence under section 423 of the Criminal Code, and potentially others as well?" the letter asked.

"Do they understand that the excuse 'I was just following orders' may not end up being an excuse that a court, be it a court of law or a court of 'public opinion,' will accept as justification for an officer's actions? Do they go to their respective associations and stand against their superiors, potentially risking their livelihood?"

"We won't offer any answers here, as it falls to each law enforcement officer to grapple with their conscience and make their own decisions."

Alberta's UCP government is facing opposition from the National Police Federation (NPF) on its provincial police service proposal, calling it "unpopular and costly." They said the province should bolster existing policing rather than transition to a new model.

A 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by the province said the RCMP costs Alberta about $500 million annually. The report found that those costs would rise to $735 million annually for a provincial service, on top of $366 million in startup costs.

Alberta has long debated replacing the RCMP with a provincial police service, as recommended in the Fair Deal Panel Report released in June 2020.

According to the report, many residents expressed frustration with local crime and the RCMP's policing, despite respecting the organization. However, some want to keep the RCMP out of "sentimental attachment" or "a concern about the extra cost and red tape associated with creating a provincial police force."

Presenters felt the RCMP became "too bureaucratic to respond to local needs," and their resources were too thin. They said the RCMP's habit of moving officers around the province hurt police effectiveness and that the force "was unable or unwilling to confront activists who terrorize farmers."

Many firearms owners also expressed concern with the policing group's heavy-handed enforcement of gun laws, especially the rumblings of federal confiscation through Bill C-21.

"Why should Albertans pay Ottawa for the RCMP to come and confiscate our guns?" asked one presenter. 

"The bottom line was that Alberta needs to be treated with respect, and this lack of respect led to injustice."

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