While the official word from the RCMP is that a $10.7 million provincial budget shortfall will have no effect on public safety, a Chilliwack city councillor and former Mountie disagrees.
Both Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and B.C. RCMP communications director Dawn Roberts emphasized that the cuts needed to be made to respond to the projected budget shortfall won’t impact frontline officers.
“No service or programs have been cut reduced or changed,” Roberts told The Progress last week. “We are hopeful that the average member of the public wouldn’t see or notice anything different.”
The RCMP is contracted to police the City of Chilliwack with municipal dollars, but the provincial RCMP budget covers policing in the rural areas, in addition to the integrated units such as IHIT or the anti-gang unit.
Roberts said the forecast cuts needed will likely be to non-mandatory training or conferences, equipment replacement that can wait, or not filling vacancies for provincial officers for rural areas.
She said for the rural areas services by the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment (UFVRD), there are currently no vacancies.
“You are fully staffed,” she said.
But Coun. Bud Mercer — who was once assistant commissioner with the RCMP — said the Upper Fraser Valley is so interspersed with rural areas outside of the municipalities, and is so underfunded as it is, that any pressure there could indeed impact municipal budgets.
“The math doesn’t work,” Mercer said, adding that in the 1990s when he was a sergeant in the local detachment there were seven provincially funded members dedicated to the rural areas.
Today there are eight.
“It’s a serious problem across the province but dramatically so in the Fraser Valley,” Mercer said. “We’ve seen upwards of 45 per cent population growth in places like Popkum and in 22 years, the province has added one frontline officer.”
Mercer said that Roberts’ claim that there will no impact on municipal policing requires all the current pieces of the puzzle to stay intact.
“That’s a leap of faith hoping that everything remains perfect,” he said. “There is just not enough policing on the provincial side and it falls to the municipality.”
City hall dollars fund policing in city limits, but the provincially funded officers cover places like the Chilliwack River Valley, Cultus Lake, the Columbia Valley and Popkum. With eight dedicated officers and four shifts, that means there are two Mounties to police all those areas in the best-case scenario.
“Factor in holidays, court times, sick times, training time. In the perfect world, both [officers] are working,” Mercer said, pointing to an example of a call for RCMP members in the Chilliwack River Valley. “That call would tie up both of them so who responds to the one at Cultus Lake or the Columbia Valley?”
The answer, of course, is RCMP members funded by the municipality since they will not let serious calls go unanswered. And while the UFVRD is fully staffed now, maybe a member will not be replaced if one is transferred or retires meaning the $10.7 million shortfall could hamper municipal policing and resources.
“It will have an effect in places like the Upper Fraser Valley where we have a provincial component because they are already understaffed by the province,” Mercer said.
The 34-year Mountie was tasked by the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) recently to meet with Farnworth in Victoria to plead for more resources amid budget restraint. Mercer said Farnworth asked for additional information, something local RCMP Supt. Bryon Massie is putting together in preparation for a follow-up meeting with the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
“That’s all we can do,” Mercer said, adding that while provincial policing resources are in threat of shrinking, or at least are not increasing, city hall is funding more officers every year.