Blue Line

‘Broken system:’ Policing shortages facing N.B. communities highlight national issue

April 27, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Apr. 27, 2023, Fredericton, N.B – Some New Brunswick communities are being forced to find creative solutions to law enforcement because of RCMP policing shortages, a phenomenon experts say is symbolic of what much of small-town Canada is experiencing.

Residents of McAdam, N.B., a historic village of about 1,100 people northwest of Saint John, have organized overnight patrols to compensate for a lack of police presence. While 200 kilometres north, the small town of Tobique Valley hired private security guards over one weekend last year after a wave of thefts.

The officer shortage in Tobique Valley is causing a rise in theft and vandalism, district Mayor Tom Eagles said in a recent interview.

“They work shifts and there’s times you don’t see them here for days,” Eagles said about RCMP officers. “I still think we have the best police force in the world. But they’re working under a broken system.”

The RCMP – aside from combating major crime such as terrorism and human trafficking – are contracted to provide policing to about 150 municipalities across Canada in eight provinces; Quebec and Ontario have their own provincial police services. But the RCMP are having trouble recruiting, and small communities across the country say they are suffering as a result.

“It’s a dangerous job. And then the RCMP more recently have come under a lot of public criticism,” Michael Boudreau, professor of criminology at St. Thomas University, said in a recent interview. As well, the force was never created to provide rural and small-town policing, he said.

“They were created to be a national police force, but not necessarily a rural police force. They were created to do things like human trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, but in terms of day-to-day policing on the ground – that was never really the intention of the force.”

Labour shortages are preventing officers from responding in a timely manner, a problem not just in New Brunswick but also in Nova Scotia, Boudreau said.

The RCMP’s rural policing problems were highlighted in the final report of the public inquiry that investigated Nova Scotia’s mass shooting, during which 22 people were murdered over two days in April 2020 by a gunman driving a replica RCMP police car. The report by the Mass Casualty Commission found widespread failures in how the Mounties responded to Canada’s worst mass shooting and recommended that Ottawa overhaul the way police are trained.

The report also said provincial and municipal officials should have more say in RCMP staffing decisions, including the in the selection of detachment commanders.

Boudreau said the Nova Scotia gunman was able to elude the police for as long as he did partly because he knew the area while some of the RCMP officers didn’t. “The idea of community policing isn’t working, because in order to do community policing you actually have to be in the community,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the town of McAdam, residents installed security cameras on their properties and ensure to lock up bikes and other possessions to deter thieves. Mayor Ken Stannix said that after complaining about the lack of police presence between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. – when most of the thefts seem to happen – “we were able to get an RCMP officer to patrol the odd night.”

“Right now, the RCMP are responsible for not only crimes within the communities, but they also look after the highways and a whole host of other things,” Stannix said in an interview Thursday. “Because of that they get spread pretty thin.”

In Tobique Valley, Eagles said, the fire department has started responding to highway accidents because of a lack of police. “They do come. I mean, if it’s serious they do come,” he said of RCMP called to traffic accidents. “Sometimes it’s later, it’s not as quick as we’d like it. You can wait a long time.”

Eagles said the former RCMP detachment in the community of Plaster Rock – before it was amalgamated to form Tobique Valley – was staffed by four officers who got to know residents. “But now we know nobody. We don’t know a soul.”

The New Brunswick government set aside $20.5 million in its recent budget to pay for 80 additional RCMP officers and 51 new front-line officers for rural areas. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, however, has also said his government was open to other policing models.

“Right now we’re trying to enhance the model we have because that’s what we know,” he recently told reporters. “But …. Anything that will improve the safety of our communities we would be willing to look at and understand clearly.”

New Brunswick RCMP spokesman Cpl. Hans Ouellette said there are enough officers to respond to urgent calls and ensure public safety.

“N.B. RCMP policing resources are based on workload and other factors, not a minimum number of police officers,” he said in an email. “The future allocation of police resources will be measured against theses factors, while also considering factors such as the ratio of police to population and geography.”

Boudreau said RCMP incoming commissioner Mike Duheme has a herculean task ahead of him to reform the institution, adding that implementing the recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission will require a great deal of time and effort.

“The Mass Casualty Commission indicated, and others have indicated in the past as well, myself included, the RCMP have to stop doing rural policing,” he said.

“We need to rethink how policing is done. Perhaps it’s time for a provincial police force.”

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