Staff shortage could risk RCMP officer safety, says police federation

(Canadian OH&S News) — A shortage of RCMP personnel across the country could create both long-term and short-term safety risks for members, according to the national federation for RCMP officers.

An Aug. 14 story on the CTV News website cited the RCMP’s own statistics on its vacancy rates for this year and 2018. More than 12 per cent of officer positions are unfilled across Canada — a figure that jumps up to nearly 17 per cent for the Ottawa region and almost 14 per cent for the national division. About 5.5 per cent of members are on either sick leave or parental leave.

Brian Sauvé, the interim executive co-chair of the National Police Federation (NPF) and an RCMP sergeant currently on leave, told COHSN that the force has been short of personnel for years. As far back as 2012, the RCMP concluded that it was 5,000 members short, he said.

“If you’re in, for example, Burnaby, B.C., where a general-duty or a patrol unit has 20 police officers on it,” said Sauvé, “if you lose one or two to sickness or a broken bone or an injury or even a family-related leave, such as maternity or paternity, that’s not such a big deal. You can probably make that up from the other 200 or 300 that are in that detachment.”

But in a rural area, the percentage of lost human resources in the same situation is greater. “The workload is no different between Burnaby and smaller spots,” he said. “You end up with higher percentages of vacancies, which puts the added stress on those who are showing up to work and still healthy, to make up the shortfall.” As a result, these officers are more likely to experience exhaustion, operational stress injuries and reduced resilience to trauma.

“You’ll see higher incidences of police-officer suicides; you’ll see higher incidences of divorce, alcoholism,” said Sauvé, “because the resilience has been killed by overworking.”

In the prairies and New Brunswick, he added, it is not unusual for one officer to cover a patrol diameter of several hundred kilometres. “There’s the danger to the employee, the member, of going somewhere alone and not having backup for an hour or an hour and a half.” And fatigue is another considerable issue in these cases. “Is that police officer well-rested enough, and in the right mind, to make the proper decisions responding to and at that particular call?”

The RCMP headquarters in Ottawa did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment before press time.

Sauvé suggested more aggressive recruiting strategies and reduction of individual officers’ duties as ways to deal with the staffing issues. “The biggest one I think I hear from the membership is, perhaps we should scale back a little bit on what we, as a force, agree to do,” he explained. “Instead of being everything to everybody, maybe we should be a little less willing to take on all of the broad mandate that we have, and that’s temporarily.”

In addition, the RCMP could try to persuade retiring members to go back on the job on an as-needed basis and even to recruit internationally. “Vancouver, for example, tries to attract a lot of the U.K. police officers into their ranks.”

Sauvé cited a 2010 position paper by six senators, Toward a Red Serge Revival, which recommended that the federal government provide funding to hire 5,000 more members over the following decade, to fill persistent and widespread vacancies.

“We recommend that the RCMP expand recruitment, increase personnel in the smaller detachments and generally develop initiatives to allow officers adequate downtime and a more balanced life, in order to enhance their performance on the frontlines,” the paper read.

“There’s no overnight fix,” said Sauvé.

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