British Columbia

Recruitment and retention plan needed to fix sheriff crisis, says auditor general's report

The auditor general has made eight recommendations to address chronic staff shortages at the B.C. Sheriff Service.

Chronic staff shortage has led to cancelled court dates and criminals walking free due to unreasonable delays

Sheriffs on duty at the Surrey Provincial Court in 2016. A new report from the auditor general says the B.C. Sheriff Service needs to do a better job recruiting and retaining sheriffs. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

A new report from the B.C. auditor general's office paints an unflattering picture of the chronically understaffed B.C. Sheriff Service, finding the organization has a weak recruitment strategy and no strategy to retain employees.

The report also found that over 60 per cent of sheriffs failed to re-qualify their firearms and use-of-force training on time, something that could have "significant consequences for courthouse staff and the public."

During the audit, the BCSS extended the length of time allowed between recertification in an attempt to address the problem, but the audit found it did so without considering the impact to public safety. 

B.C. sheriffs are responsible for the safety and security of the courts, transporting prisoners, holding cell supervision, jury administration and executing warrants and arrests.

A number of high-profile B.C. court cases have been thrown out because of delays caused by the sheriff shortage.

In July of 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada's Jordan decision set aside drug convictions in a B.C. case because of unreasonable delays that were deemed to violate the accused's rights.

A group of B.C. sheriffs shown during a rally at the B.C. provincial courthouse on in Vancouver. (CBC)

The namesake of the decision, Barrett Richard Jordan, was found guilty of selling cocaine and heroin, but walked free because more than 49 months passed between his arrest and conviction. 

According to the report, BCSS staff shortages began in earnest in 2011-2012 and have continued ever since.

In 2018 it was estimated the number of sheriffs in the province had declined to 400 from 500.

The repercussions of the problem extend beyond cancelled court dates. The report also points to high levels of overtime, and high travel costs from moving staff around the province to cover shortages.

In 2017-2018 alone, travel and overtime costs surpassed $5 million at the BCSS.

The sheriff's union has previously claimed the major issue is low pay. 

In 2017, Dean Purdy of the Corrections and Sheriffs Services unit of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union said police forces were recruiting a large number of sheriffs into jobs that paid up to $36,000 more per year. 

The auditor's report didn't address salary.

Last year the BCSS received an infusion of $15 million over three years to fund an additional class of 72 sheriffs to be trained at the B.C. Justice Institute. 

The new report makes eight recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Ministry of the Attorney General, Court Services Branch that oversees the BCSS:

  1. Create a human resources oversight position.
  2. Enhance BCSS business intelligence data.
  3. Use updated tools to properly estimate and plan for staff needs.
  4. Establish a clear and measurable human resources strategy.
  5. Develop a retention strategy.
  6. Develop a better training plan with clear expectations. Ensure compliance.
  7. Conduct regular reviews of training and development programs.
  8. Develop and use key performance indicators for providing for the safety and security of the courts.

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