The South Okanagan could be a candidate for a more centralized policing model that may see the closing of some smaller detachments, the B.C. RCMP’s top brass told UBCM delegates in Whistler this week.
Voicing concerns about the sustainability of policing in B.C., RCMP Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs said increased policing complexity and impending RCMP unionization could see larger regional detachments created to serve broader areas currently serviced by small rural police stations.
In the South Okanagan—where the Penticton detachment acts as the headquarters for the entire region spanning from Summerland to Osoyoos and Princeton—steps have already been taken to move the region towards a “hub” model.
The Summerland RCMP station, for example, does not have holding cells, and all offenders are sent to Penticton, which is compensated through a cost-sharing agreement.
Regional commander Supt. Ted De Jager cautions, however, that heavy discussion and consultation would need to take place before he considered closing a smaller detachment in the region.
“We are always looking for the most efficient model to put the most police resources on the road,” he said.
De Jager said under a fully centralized “hub” model, a hypothetically closed rural RCMP detachment would be replaced by officers that live and start their day in Penticton, but commute out to the community for a full shift.
There may still be a building, possibly with civilian staff and a corporal for the public to interact with, “but the actual patrol constables, the members that are taking the files, would start their shift in Penticton and they would drive out there and spend their whole shift out there.”
Advantages the system could bring, De Jager said, include easier recruitment, better training opportunities and cost savings on things like on-call wages in smaller communities that cannot support 24/7 policing.
“The mayors and councils, understandably, want to ensure that they have policing… that when someone calls the police, an officer shows up,” De Jager said, explaining it will be up to RCMP brass to explain to local governments they could get “just as good, if not better policing service through a hubbing arrangement.”
The hub model would also take the burden off smaller RCMP detachments when an officer goes on leave. The Keremeos RCMP has just five members, meaning an officer getting sick can have a big impact on the whole operation.
“A smaller place could, in theory, get more consistent policing than with the four to six members that are posted there,” De Jager said.
And then there are specialized officers: homicide detectives, K9 units and targeted enforcement units. Currently, if a murder takes place in Summerland, it’s a Penticton-based and funded team that goes to investigate. Under today’s model, Penticton’s policing budget is reimbursed, but in the meantime those officers are not investigating Penticton’s files.
De Jager said a hub model would see the surrounding communities contribute more to the specialized services.
“Whether they give money to a centralized pot, or a member. Summerland currently has nine officers, maybe go up to 10 and give one of those to the plainclothes section, almost as an insurance policy,” he explained. “So now anything that happens in Summerland, the ‘hub’ will be able to respond to that without taking away resources from Penticton.”
Elaborating on Stubbs’ comment of increased “policing complexity,” De Jager said police work is simply taking more of individual officer’s time these days.
The landmark Jordan Supreme Court decision—capping the length of time from when charges are laid to the end of trial—means officers need to gather an immense amount of evidence before charges can be approved. A criminal code impaired driving case will take an officer off the streets for a full shift just to ensure a conviction.
Per-officer case burdens, De Jager added, are much higher in Penticton than many of the smaller detachments in the region. The South Okanagan is already considerably more “hubbed” than other parts of the province, like the north.
De Jager said municipalities that pay for their own policing will ultimately get a greater say in how policing is provided.
While Penticton pays for 90 per cent of its police bill and Summerland pays 70 per cent, a smaller community like Keremeos pays less than 30 per cent under the provincial contract.
Regardless, De Jager assures the RCMP would never impose changes on a community like the closure of a detachment without full consultation.
“There is no way we would pull this trigger without a lot of consultation with mayors, councils and electoral districts.”
He added there are complex issues that still need to be ironed out, like how civilian staff could be shared, or how evidence would be managed if there was no local detachment. Despite the comments from his superior this week, De Jager said discussions about centralized policing are not new to the South Okanagan and have been taking place for some time, and will likely continue to evolve in the years to come.
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