The chief of Saskatchewan's only self-run Indigenous police service says new federal funding could help him recruit more officers — and hold on to employees enticed by better-paying jobs with the RCMP and municipal police services.
"We've lost a lot," said Lennard Busch, the chief of police for the File Hills First Nations Police Service in southeast Saskatchewan.
Public Safety Canada has announced $291 million in new funding over the next five years for First Nations and Inuit police services across the country.
The infusion of new cash into the First Nations Policing Program is meant to help pay for salaries and equipment.
"One of our huge risks or challenges is recruiting," said Busch.
"We'd like to be able to offer candidates or applicants...a comparable salary to what they would [receive] from other police services. We'd like to be competitive."
The File Hills First Nation Police Service launched in 2000 and has 16 employees, including two corporals, six constables, five special constables and three support staff members.
Busch would like to add two to three more officers to help cover a large geographic area that includes five communities: Peepeekisis, Okanese, Starblanket, Little Black Bear and Carry the Kettle.
Going from one community to another can sometimes take an hour by car, he said.
"So if somebody has an emergency and they need some backup, we want to be able to have enough bodies around to ensure that everybody's safe," said Busch.
He also hopes the new money will help pay for the rising cost of gas.
Money also going to police partnerships
The money announced on Wednesday will be spread among 450 First Nations and Inuit communities.
That includes 33 communities in Saskatchewan — on top of the five served by File Hills police — where police services are delivered through partnerships managed by the RCMP.
For that reason, Busch is "cautiously optimistic" about how much his force will benefit from the new cash.
"But, at least for the short-term, we can [assure] our employees that we're still going to be around for a while," said Busch.
"As the April 1 deadline approaches on the current agreements, some people were getting concerned about the future."
Province upping its share?
The First Nations Policing Program is co-financed by the federal and provincial and territorial governments.
In its news release, Public Safety Canada said provinces "will be asked to increase their funding to maintain their share of 48 per cent of the costs of the program."
"The ministry is encouraged to see the federal government continuing to support First Nations policing," a spokesperson for Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice said via email.
"As this decision is new, the ministry will need time to review it before providing any additional comment on what it may mean for Saskatchewan."