Nova Scotia

As N.S. reviews policing models, some towns ask if RCMP is worth the cost

Justice Minister Mark Furey told CBC News last month that he’s asked his department to review policing service models, including examining the possible creation of a provincial police force.

Justice Minister Mark Furey has called for the review in light of RCMP contract costs

Truro's police department includes 36 officers, 13 civilians and a K-9 unit. (Truro Police Service)

As officials with Nova Scotia's Justice Department review police services in the province, mayors for several towns that have municipal forces say they are receiving more dependable results than if they used the RCMP.

Justice Minister Mark Furey told CBC News last month that he's asked his department to review policing service models, including examining the possible creation of a provincial police force.

For Furey, a key issue has become the affordability of contracts between municipalities and the RCMP, whose union is seeking a pay hike for its more than 20,000 police officers.

Although the province's contract with the RCMP runs until 2032, there are regular reviews built into the agreement. Along with those reviews, either party has the ability to exit the contract without penalty on March 31 of a given year, as long as they provide two years' notice. 

Justice Minister Mark Furey called for the policing review after some municipalities expressed concerns about the affordability of the RCMP contract. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Annapolis Royal Mayor Amery Boyer said her town has been through several policing reviews in the past and each time the result was the same.

"The decision to retain was less precarious, less risky than going with the RCMP," she said.

Annapolis Royal, a town of about 500 people, budgeted $423,000 this year for its police department, which includes 3.5 full-time equivalent positions. Boyer said a key concern for a municipality when it comes to using the RCMP is service delivery.

"You might buy a level of service, but you have no assurance of getting it," she said.

Reliability is a key reason why the town of Truro has its own police force.

Like Boyer, Truro Mayor Bill Mills said multiple police reviews in his town have shown its own force provides more reliable service for what they spend compared to the RCMP.

Truro Mayor Bill Mills says the town's police department has low turnover and lots of interest from officers wanting to come work there. (Robert Short/CBC)

The town of 13,000 people has a police budget of about $5 million, which includes a force with 36 officers, 13 civilians and a canine team. Through the years, the town has increased wages to remain competitive with other police forces and Mills said that's resulted in long-term commitments from most people who don a uniform in Truro.

"Our turnover right now is almost nil," he said. "We have officers calling us, wanting to come to Truro and wanting to work here, establish a family here."

The situation provides stability, strong community engagement and good response times 24 hours a day, said Mills.

Response times and service delivery are among the driving factors in a police review the Municipality of Colchester County is currently engaged in with the province.

Mayor Christine Blair said the municipality wants to know the $5.1 million it's spending each year on 35 RCMP officers is resulting in the service delivery residents need and expect.

'We're looking at our options'

The review will consider all options, she said, ranging from adjusting the current arrangement with the RCMP to moving to a regional force of some sort.

"We're not saying that we can't do something, we're looking at our options [and] how can we best serve the residents of Colchester County with our policing service," said Blair.

A major challenge for her municipality is geography, said Blair. Even on a good day, it can take upward of 50 minutes to get to the outer limits of the municipality from the RCMP detachment in Bible Hill.

While there was a time when that issue was mitigated by community offices staffed in other parts of the municipality, including Tatamagouche, that's no longer the case.

For municipalities that use the RCMP, 70 per cent of the cost is paid for by the municipality and the province, with the federal government picking up the rest of the tab. Meanwhile, the 10 municipalities with their own forces are on the hook for almost all of the costs related to service delivery.

Mills said he'd like to see "fair and equitable funding" be part of the consideration of the review the Justice Department is conducting. Along with the Municipality of Colchester County, The Municipality of the District of Digby and the towns of Oxford and Mulgrave are also currently engaged in or have requested police services reviews.