The Municipality of North Cowichan won’t pay for one more police officer to add to the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment.
Each year in May, the RCMP sends the municipality a request to approve in principle the RCMP contract budget for the next fiscal year, and among the requests in the RCMP draft contract budget for 2021/22 was the addition of a new police officer at the detachment to keep up with growing demands, in addition to the 32 members North Cowichan already funds.
The other 30 members at the detachment, which includes four First Nations officers, are paid for mostly by the province.
As of 2019, the total cost per year of an RCMP officer is approximately $193,000 when the price tag for training, equipment, pay and other factors are considered.
The province increased its complement to the detachment by two members in 2019, and North Cowichan last increased its number of police officers by one member in 2018.
In a report to council that was part of the council agenda at its meeting on June 3, RCMP Inspector Chris Bear, head of the detachment, said operational calls for service in the region increased 10 per cent between 2017 and 2019.
He said the opioid and homeless crises are causing increasing demands on North Cowichan’s bylaw officers and the RCMP and requested the municipality fund one more police officer beginning in 2021/22.
“North Cowichan is a busy detachment as measured by crime rate, case load and population per officer,” Bear said.
But Coun. Rob Douglas said statistics indicate that while North Cowichan is paying for 52 per cent of the detachment’s officers, calls for service in North Cowichan amount to about 49 per cent of all calls.
He also said the actual crime rate across Canada has been in decline for some time, but increasing issues around opioid addiction, homelessness and mental health are taking up more of the time of police forces.
“It’s not fair to expect additional officers to handle that,” Douglas said.
“Senior governments are downloading responsibility for these issues onto municipal governments and local police departments. I don’t think we should consider approving a new police officer until our service review of the RCMP, which is a part of our new strategic plan, is completed later this year.”
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie agreed, saying North Cowichan needs to take a hard look at its housing and opioid issues to determine the best ways to deal with them.
“I don’t know if we need another police officer,” she said.
But Coun. Tek Manhas said the crime rate in the Valley is on the increase, and citizens are demanding something be done.
“You can see the difficulties in the morning and all through the day,” he said.
“Business people and residents are having to call the police all of the time and our people are telling us more police are needed on the ground. I don’t know how we can justify not adding three or four more police officers because that’s what’s needed considering what’s happening in our community right now.”
Council voted against adding the additional officer next year, with Manhas and Mayor Al Siebring opposed.
But council did approve the RCMP’s $6.76 million budget from North Cowichan next year, which includes a $500,000 portion of the new phone system at the new RCMP detachment.