RCMP and the provincial government are responding to allegations made by a serving officer about rural police service in Saskatchewan.
In a letter to 650 CKOM an RCMP officer who asked not to have his name published said rural detachments are chronically understaffed. He went on to suggest there’s a provincewide shortage of about 100 officers. Finally, the officer wrote that there was only one member on duty to cover the rural area around Saskatoon the night of Aug. 19.
During an appearance on Gormley, Supt. Kris Vibe with RCMP ‘F’ Division refused to discuss specifically whether only one officer was available that night.
“For public and police safety, I can’t talk about how many people are working on any given shift in any given detachment,” he said.
Vibe said detachment commanders have options if they find themselves in need of extra staff. He said there is a five-member relief squad available and officers can be seconded from other detachments if necessary. He said there was also a team available to provide backup to officers responding to potentially dangerous calls, adding that in those cases, members are required to call for extra help.
Vibe said the official vacancy rate sits at about 4 per cent. That works out to about 37 of 924 positions sitting unfilled. However, that number doesn’t capture officers who might not be available at any given time due to things like sickness, injury, leave or training.
“There are people that aren’t at work because of injury. RCMP officers are the same as anyone else, they have families and some of them avail themselves of (maternity) and (paternity) leave just like anyone else,” he said.
Vibe acknowledged those officers aren’t always replaced.
“Those shortages, once again, a detachment commander would avail themselves to secondments, to the relief team to ensure that he or she had sufficient rescources on that shift to ensure public safety,” he said.
Drew Wilby, executive director of corporate services with the provincial Ministry of Justice, said the province pays roughly $180 million for rural RCMP service under a formula that sees them cover 70 per cent of costs, with the federal government covering the remaining 30 per cent.
“We would expect that the detachments across the province would be staffed-up to a point where community safety is not at risk,” he said.
Wilby said the province is in regular contact with both ‘F’ Division and the federal Ministry of Public Safety about service levels. He said systems are in place to ensure the province is getting what it’s paying for.
“We’re constantly looking at that contract, looking at those positions to make sure that what we are paying for is being delivered on, and we’re confident in a lot of that,” he said.
Wilby said while ‘F’ Division handles day-to-day policing operations, the province is ultimately responsible for providing rural police service and is duty-bound to respond if concerns are raised.
“As a province, we’re accountable to the taxpayers of Saskatchewan, the people of Saskatchewan…and so it’s up to us to determine those needs as well and communicate that clearly to Public Safety Canada and to ‘F’ Division to make sure that those needs are being met across the province,” he said.