Port Alberni’s RCMP department is already the most expensive detachment in the province on a per-capita basis. But the detachment is so busy that Port Alberni RCMP Officer-in-Charge Inspector Brian Hunter is asking the city for an additional two officers in this year’s budget.
In Port Alberni’s 2017-2021 Five Year Financial Plan, city council at the time planned to reduce the RCMP budget by one member in 2019 in order to hold the departmental increase to 9.5 percent over five years.
During a city council budget meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, Hunter requested two additional officers, instead of the reduction.
For the past 10 years, the city has had a contract for 34 officers, but the detachment has never had 34 officers actually filling those positions, due to maternity leave, long-term sick leave and transfers in and out of the detachment. These positions, however, cannot be backfilled. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the city only paid for 28.47 officers. So far in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the city is on pace to pay for 30.48 officers (the difference goes into a surplus account that the RCMP uses to pay for major crime investigation).
Maternity leave and long-term sick leave is paid for provincially.
“We haven’t filled those positions ever,” Hunter explained. “There’s a slippage of two members…that is never spent in the budget.”
Crime reduction, Hunter explained, happens during an officer’s “proactive” time, when they aren’t responding to calls for service. A “healthy” police department has 30 to 40 percent proactive time, but Port Alberni’s is running at about seven percent. The detatchment’s crime reduction unit is currently working general duty and responding to calls. So is the school’s youth liaison officer.
The detachment’s solve rate is one of the best in the province, but arresting people and putting them in jail is not going to knock down the crime rate, said Hunter. According to him, the detachment does not have the time to investigate crime rings or stolen property.
“We need to have about four more officers on our general duty strength just to come up to a standard [that would] allow us to do more proactive work in the community, ultimately bringing down the crime rate,” said Hunter. “I’m asking for two more police officers.”
This, he said, would allow him to “backfill” the members who are currently on leave and “get boots on the road.”
As Hunter pointed out, there is an opportunity to reduce members by transferring them if the crime rate in the city goes down. “But I can’t go the other way,” he said.
The cost for one police officer is approximately $174,000, which includes salary as well as things like computers, vehicle replacement and repairs and gas for the vehicle.
Port Alberni has the most expensive RCMP municipal detachment in the province on a per-capita basis. For comparison, Qualicum Beach has a population of around 9,000 people, and the municipality pays for eight police officers.
“It has nothing to do with the population,” Hunter explained on Monday. “It has to do with the crime, the crime types and the amount of time that we spend on investigating these crimes. Port Alberni has a high amount of significantly complex and violent crimes, which take a lot of resources to investigate.”
Hunter said he is currently in contact with Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, working with the provincial government to have them come up with two more police officers for the city.
“I’m not saying it’s going to happen,” said Hunter. “I’m saying I recognize, and so do they, that the province should buck up and help the city Port Alberni do policing in this community because there are a lot of people that are here committing crimes that aren’t from here.”
Council agreed on Monday to have staff prepare a draft budget so they can see what the addition of one, two and four officers will look like in the 2019-2023 Five Year Financial Plan.
The city’s next budget meeting will take place on Monday, Feb. 4 at 1 p.m.