Rural mayor calls for greater transparency, presence from RCMP
Plaster Rock Mayor Tom Eagles says community has had to hire private security to protect public property
The mayor of Plaster Rock says communities like his deserve more information about the level of service they're getting from the RCMP.
Tom Eagles says he only found out by chance through a meeting about a year ago with Larry Tremblay, the former New Brunswick RCMP commanding officer, that the ratio of officers to population in his area was one per 1,000 people.
Meanwhile, he said, the provincial rate was 1.6 per 1,000, and the national rate was 1.8 per 1,000.
"I think they should tell the councils just that," Eagles said.
The village didn't really have any choice but the RCMP for police service, he said, because it can't afford its own force.
It pays $200,000 a year for the Mounties, and on top of that, it recently hired a private security company to patrol municipal properties on weekends at a cost of about $1,000 per weekend, after a spate of minor crimes such as theft and vandalism.
Police were often unable to respond to calls for a day or more, he said, because they were busy on other calls.
"Recently they've been called for a suspicious person," said Eagles, "and never showed up."
Hiring private security guards is "like a Band-Aid solution," he said.
"We need better coverage, we need better response times here.
"We know the crime rate here is high," Eagles said
Cpl. Hans Ouellette, a spokesperson for the RCMP in New Brunswick, said "As with all first responders, the RCMP has to triage calls to ensure the most serious incidents are dealt with first and that resources are being used to their best advantage."
The force is committed to using the resources it has to provide the best possible service, he said, and tries to be transparent through public reports on its website, including occurrence maps and graphs.
Ouellette emphasized that all calls are "important" and urged any victim or witness of crime to report it.
He declined to comment on the municipality's hiring of private security guards, but said local input is always welcome to help identify issues of concern, discuss solutions and set priorities.
As for the level of staffing in the Plaster Rock area, Ouellette suggested that is up to the province.
"Any questions that revolve around cost per population, budget, cost of policing, levels of service for cost, et cetera, those questions need to be directed to the contract provider," he said, "and in this province that would be the Department of Public Safety."
Questions about vacancies
Ouellette did not respond to a follow-up question about whether there were any vacancies in the force in that area, but he acknowledged the past two years have been "very challenging."
"Our members have during that time remained very dedicated professionals that have continually met evolving and complex policing demands, while responding with care and compassion to keeping New Brunswickers safe."
Eagles said he hadn't heard of any vacancies in his area —the local detachment closed years ago and officers now respond to the village from either Perth-Andover or Woodstock — but wouldn't be surprised if there were.
"They probably are running short," he said, with people out sick and fewer new recruits entering the profession.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety deflected questions about the number and location of officers.
"Questions about vacancies and where officers are posted should be directed to the RCMP," said spokesperson Geoffrey Downey.
According to the province's contract with the RCMP, the minister of public safety determines the level of policing service, and any change in the number of detachments and organizational structure of the force, in consultation with the police commissioner.
The minister and the commissioner are also supposed to agree by Sept. 1 each year on any additional staff needed for the next fiscal year.
The commanding officer is supposed to report quarterly to the minister on staffing and vacancies.
The Department of Public Safety didn't provide those figures to CBC News or explain why a lower level of staffing may have been approved for the Plaster Rock area.
"Many factors can influence the level of service a community requires," Downey said, "such as calls for service, crime rates, operational and administrative workload demands and the community's environment, which includes population density and geography."
He also said it's not uncommon for local governments to make use of private security agencies to supplement police, "knowing that officers cannot be everywhere at all times."
The department acknowledged that the minister is responsible for ensuring the policing models chosen provide adequate law enforcement.
Eagles said he's hopeful that public meetings being organized for later this month will help get more officers in the area after successive councils flagged the issue and saw no results.
Carleton-Victoria MLA Margaret Johnson, who is also minister of agriculture, is co-ordinating the events. According to her executive assistant, the first event is slated for Oct. 17 at Carleton North High School in Florenceville-Bristol. The second is set for Oct. 24 at the Legion in Plaster Rock. They are also trying to organize a third meeting in Perth-Andover.
Public Safety Minister Bill Hogan and other department representatives are expected to attend. The RCMP has also been invited.
As to whether policing reforms may be introduced in January along with municipal governance reforms, Downey said there could be some jurisdiction changes that affect municipal police forces, but regional service commissions will not have a role to play in policing.