Staffing levels within the RCMP in Manitoba have dropped over the past two years while job vacancies have increased, creating a situation that a staff representative says is taking a toll on members.
As of April 1, there were 36 vacant positions in Manitoba for regular members, according to documents obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.
The number of RCMP regular members in Manitoba dropped from 1,082 in April 2013, to 1,070 in 2014, to 1,055 in 2015 — a loss of 27 positions over the two-year period.
Even with the smaller complement, the vacancy rate increased from 3.2 per cent in 2014 to 3.4 per cent in April 2015. By contrast, there was slightly more than a full complement in April 2013.
"Typically the members who are left behind fill the gaps by taking on additional duties, working extra overtime," said Staff Sgt. Scott Bird, a staff relations representative with D Division.
Bird said to maintain public safety while dealing with the shortages, officers are moved around from detachment to detachment, where they're most needed. Often it means working longer hours and spending less time with their families, he said.
"We have an extremely dedicated group of RCMP members and they continually take on more and more. But they get tired … and they're working more than they want to in some instances," said Bird.
His concerns were reinforced by Rob Creasser, a media liaison with the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada.
RCMP 'poorly' resourced
"I don't think the public knows how poorly the RCMP is resourced," said Creasser, based in British Columbia.
"For governments to say that we're going to have safe communities and safe homes, how do you do that unless you're properly resourced? And then we have things like the people that are left working are becoming stressed and getting sick," he added.
"Community safety, and certainly officer safety, are unnecessarily being hampered."
CBC News reported on Wednesday that at the time of the Parliament Hill attack in Ottawa one year ago, the RCMP unit that patrols Parliament was understaffed by at least 29 positions.
An internal RCMP staff bulletin this month said the police force is currently dealing with 1,100 vacancies nationally.
Can't backfill positions
According to staff representative Bird, there are so few police officers to go around in Manitoba, the RCMP can't backfill positions left open by maternity and paternity leaves.
"Right now we don't have the resources to fill those gaps, so the members take it on their backs," said Bird.
The issue of backfilling when police officers are on leave is an issue that's been raised by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.
"Municipalities have been concerned about the level of service from the RCMP for some time," said AMM president Chris Goertzen.
"Is the full complement that is being paid for … or requested happening in the local detachments?"
Goertzen added, "We know there's a lot of [RCMP officers] on leave, for parental leave or for sick leave or for some other reason, and that's an ongoing concern because those positions seem to be staying vacant or not being filled when those people are on leave."
He said the AMM will be raising the issue again next month in meetings with the RCMP and with Manitoba's attorney general.
Municipalities question fairness
The AMM has also raised concerns about significant RCMP resources being required to accompany patients who need to be transferred from one location to another under the provincial Mental Health Act.
"This is significant stress, not only on the patient but on the officers, and it's stress on the budget because this is overtime that is being taken away from the regular service that is being provided in the community," Goertzen said.
The mayor of St.-Pierre-Jolys, Man., also recognized the stress that staffing shortages place on RCMP officers.
"We sense that it must be stressful for the members that are there working having to fill those shifts doing all the work for all the full complement," said Mayor Mona Fallis.
She said it's also a fairness issue for her municipality.
"We're asked to pay the same amount [for RCMP service] whether they're at half-complement or if they're at full complement. So in a sense, we feel that's not quite fair," she said.
"If we're not getting what we're paying for, maybe they should be reducing our portion of what we have to pay. For our taxpayers, we feel that would be fair," she added.
"I realize they're doing their best. But we have to look at the security of the community and the region as a whole, so that's worrisome for us."
The AMM's Goertzen agreed.
"The service that municipalities do get from their local detachments is generally looked at very positively," he said.
"What is a challenge, of course, is to make sure that there is the right level of service, that there are enough officers covering off the service that's needed, and that continues to be a challenge across Manitoba."
The RCMP sent the following statement to CBC News late Thursday:
"At any given time, the RCMP may have a number of regular members who are:
- on maternity/parental leave;
- unexpectedly off-duty on administrative leave for various reasons; or
- required to leave their regular duties to meet operational requirements elsewhere in the country.
"Statistics provide a snapshot of a moment in time. For the reasons noted above, vacancy numbers will fluctuate.
"The RCMP recruits new regular members based on attrition, retirement rates and resourcing demands identified by our municipal and provincial partners as well as our federal policing requirements. These factors can also impact vacancy rates at any given time.
"The RCMP continues to load new cadets in troops, as required, to meet resourcing demands.
"With respect to your question on RCMP salaries please refer to the Supreme Court decision found here."