As the RCMP faces a national crisis in staffing shortages, Tantramar Treasurer Michael Beal has confirmed that the local detachment here is also understaffed, but says the town is not being billed for police services it isn’t receiving.
In a report to council on Monday, Beal said that while the former town of Sackville’s federal contract for RCMP police services requires 10 full-time officers, the town paid for only 8.25 officers last year resulting in a saving of $267,703.
He added that by the end of June this year, the town had saved another $98,893.
“On top of this, current status shows 8.53 officers at this time and if this continues to the end of December, it would result in an additional 2023 budget savings of $232,410 for the former Sackville town which could mean savings of $331,303 under what was budgeted,” Beal said.
“Now, this is good from a financial perspective, but not good from a service delivery perspective of course.”
Staff shortages affecting services
Beal’s report follows one to council last month from Sgt. Eric Hanson, the head of the local detachment, who said four of his officers are on long-term sick leave out of the total number of 18.
The detachment polices the former town of Sackville, the former LSDs, Dorchester as well as Memramcook and the Port Elgin area.
“The way our organization works, there’s no replacement for these people,” he said.
“There isn’t a pool of RCMP officers that we can borrow from when somebody goes off sick; we just have to bear the weight of their loss.”
Hanson said he was hoping that one of the four would be returning soon, but the other three absences will be lengthy.
“We do apologize, but there’s nothing that I can do about that unfortunately,” he added.
“The others have to pick up the slack and we shuffle the schedule around to try to fill those holes,” he said.
“There’s less traffic work being done; there’s less of that proactive work being done because those who are working are picking up the slack in the investigations and the calls for service that come in.”
As the CBC reported last month, the RCMP is falling short of baseline staffing levels across the country, leaving detachments shorthanded and possibly jeopardizing public safety.
While the normal complement of officers in the former town of Sackville is set at 10, the municipal police service agreement (MPSA) states that officers aren’t replaced when they’re off on police training, on vacation or on sick leave unless their illness lasts more than 30 consecutive days.
During the council question period on Monday, Treasurer Beal confirmed that could mean that at any given time, local policing could be below the 8.53 officers.
“I can’t state for a fact, when, how many or if officers are on that short-term [sick] leave right now of zero to 30 days; I can’t state when people take their vacation, that is all managed through the RCMP,” he said.
Beal pointed out, however, that RCMP policing services in the rest of Tantramar — in Dorchester and the former local service districts — are covered under a separate provincial police service agreement (PPSA) and there can be overlap and a sharing of officers as needed.
He added that officers also work overtime to cover shifts and offset vacancies.
“I can even speak to this weekend when I was in through town hall on Saturday and I met a few officers; there were some officers in on overtime doing coverage from other detachments.”
Mayor says policing is adequate
“I would argue that we are adequately policed,” said Mayor Andrew Black.
“It would be nice if we were back up to our full complement of course.”
He said there was a highly visible police presence during Sackville’s Fall Fair.
“We had countless foot patrols…which was incredible to see. We had two police officers at the field day and at the Farmers’ Market. We had a police officer who came to the lake for Anything That Floats and the sand-castle-making contest. There were foot patrols in other areas of town during the Fall Fair weekend and it was fantastic to see,” Black said.
“Can the police be everywhere all at the same time?” he asked.
“They can’t be. It just depends on what tasks they have and what their coverage is like, but I would say that Sackville is adequately policed.”