PEI

Expect police presence to be leaner this summer, Charlottetown chief says

Charlottetown Police Services says like police forces across Canada, it is struggling to find officers to fill summer positions and that means it will need to change the way it operates to allow officers to take time off. 

'Those summer part-time people are just not available'

'I want to assure the public and our citizens ... our core policing services, there are no concerns that we're not going to be able to provide that level of service,' says Charlottetown Police Chief Brad MacConnell. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Charlottetown Police Services says like police forces across Canada, it is struggling to find officers to fill summer positions and that means it will need to change the way it operates, to allow officers to take time off. 

In the past anywhere from eight to 20 officers would be recruited to fill temporary summer positions, however this year, the applications just aren't coming in for summer backfill positions, said Charlottetown Police Chief Brad MacConnell.

"Things have changed, and those bodies and policemen are not there as they were in past," he said.

MacConnell said summer backfill is also a great way to evaluate potential new officers who would be applying for their force.

Where we'll maybe have to reinvent a few things is the way we deliver our services and how people report instances to police and maybe the timing in response to some of those complaints.​​​​— Brad MacConnell

"It's unfortunate that it's evolved to the point where those summer part-time people are just not available," he said. 

"I don't think we can look at the way we approach our summers in the same way moving forward — we're going to have to rethink that, strategically."

Fewer recruits available

MacConnell said one factor is that police academies across Canada are seeing a decline in enrolment. And with fewer police academy graduates, new officers have their pick of opportunities across Canada. 

MacConnell says he is working with his team to come up with ways to alleviate the burden on front-line staff to allow them to focus on essential police services. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Enrolment at the Atlantic Police Academy has declined steadily for the past several years.

Officials with Holland College weren't available to comment, but according to the school's annual reports, in 2013 the academy had 126 registered cadets and in 2020, just 34 enrolled.

MacConnell believes diminished interest in policing and public safety could also be the result of negative impressions of the police in the media, and a greater variety of job opportunities available for young people. 

He said his force isn't alone in recruiting challenges, and said he's heard the same from the Summerside Police. CBC News reached out to that force and did not receive a response. 

"I know that our partners are challenged with the same staffing issues," said MacConnell.

"We are a very small and tight policing community here, and we certainly do not want to compete against our partners."

'Have to reinvent a few things'

MacConnell said he doesn't want to deny any vacation requests. Instead, he said the force will have to deploy officers they do have where they'll need them the most. 

"We want to assure the public and our citizens that emergency services will not be impacted," said MacConnell. 

"Where we'll maybe have to reinvent a few things is the way we deliver our services and how people report instances to police and maybe the timing in response to some of those complaints."

He said he is working with his team to come up with ways to alleviate the burden on front-line staff to allow them to focus on essential police services. 

RCMP on P.E.I. say they are also always seeking new recruits, and offered this assurance via email: "There are always enough RCMP police officers to respond to urgent priority calls, and to ensure officer safety," said Sgt. Chris Gunn. 

Same thing across Canada

Brian Sauvé is president of the National Police Federation, the union for RCMP members below the rank of inspector. 

'It's almost at a crisis level,' says Brian Sauvé with the National Police Federation of police staffing levels across the country. (Submitted by the National Police Federation)

Sauvé says his union has been asking the federal government to increase funding to the RCMP's recruiting program for the last two-and-a-half years because officers are overworked. 

He said the challenges aren't unique to the RCMP, but apply to all police agencies. 

"The choice of a career in policing for younger Canadians today is not as popular as it was 10 to 20 years ago, so there is a pool of candidates and everybody's chasing after that diminishing pool," he said. 

Burnout and mental health problems are increasing among officers, he said, as workloads increase due to lack of backfill resources. 

The COVID-19 pandemic put RCMP recruiting efforts behind, he said. The RCMP's goal is to train about 1,200 new officers every year, he said, but the pandemic shut down that "depot" training in Regina. In 2020 only about 400 cadets graduated, and in 2021, he said just over 700 graduated. 

There are also far fewer applicants than there used to be, Sauvé said. When he joined the RCMP in 2003, the RCMP averaged up to 15,000 applicants a year for training at depot. Now, he said, it's one third of that. 

'Rebrand it'

Sauvé said police services have been taken by surprise at the declining interest and aren't prepared. He said better marketing and promotion is needed for people to consider a career in policing. 

"Rebrand it and really push it out to the youth today," he said. "Make it more attractive and explain a lot of the good that can be done. The use-of-force incidents get much too much attention." 

He noted last year the municipal police service in Victoria, B.C., offered a $20,000 signing bonus for experienced officers. 

"It's almost at a crisis level," he said of staffing. "It really needs to be addressed, we need to find a solution." 

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