West Kelowna city staff are recommending against the hiring of eight additional RCMP officers this year, saying the city has yet to see the results of a long-awaited RCMP review of police service levels, workloads and calls for services in the city.
The review, requested by the city, follows the addition of five new officers since an agreement on police funding was signed with the province nine years ago.
“Council requested that the province conduct the review to determine if the service level provided to the province and the municipality is fair,” writes West Kelowna chief administrative officer Jim Zaffino in a report going to council Tuesday.
The report will be presented as part of a special council meeting Tuesday to go over the city’s provisional 2018 budget.
Zaffino says the city cannot agree to hire more police officers without knowing what the local detachment’s staffing numbers should be and if the province is funding city policing in a fair manner.
“Before staff can bring forward a report supporting an increase in officers for West Kelowna, the review must be completed,” writes Zaffino.
According to the CAO, hiring the new officers—requested for this year by the officer in charge of the West Kelowna detachment—would cost the city $1.3 million and result in an additional 4.3 per cent tax increase.
“Staff cannot bring forward a report supporting such an increase without knowing that the province is paying its fair share,” writes Zaffino.
In 2009, the then District of Westside—now the City of West Kelowna—entered into an agreement for RCMP municipal policing with the province. The agreement was negotiated with the Solicitor General’s office and confirmed by the RCMP’s financial management and accounting operation.
At the time, it was recommended to West Kelowna that it have a municipal force of 21 officers and 5.5 support staff, and there be 20 provincial officers available to the municipality as the local detachment is classified as an integrated unit with Kelowna.
Zaffino says the council of the day was concerned municipal funding not subsidize the province when it came to paying for police.
Before council accepted the Municipal Police Unit Agreement, it added six more officers, approved by the province in an addendum to the agreement. It also called for an RCMP review of service levels, workloads and calls for service within the Kelowna Regional Detachment, to determine the minimum core service levels required in each area. The RCMP was to report its findings to council.
Since signing the agreement, the city has added another five officers at a cost of $800,000 for 2018. Two of the five are to be stationed in the municipality and the city will start paying for them once they are located in West Kelowna.
But to date, the city says it has not received the results of any review.
Policing costs West Kelowna just over $5 million per year.
But the staff recommendation to hold off hiring more officers is not sitting well with at least one resident.
Gordon Ernest says the move would be a mistake given the rise in crime the city is experiencing.
Ernest says he believes there are ways to pay for the new officers for the growing community, including having civilian staff handle more of the administration work currently done, and charged for, by the RCMP, refinancing the cost of the RCMP detachment building in Westbank, increasing the amount the RCMP pays to lease the building from West Kelowna and cutting costs in other areas of the city budget.
“If West Kelowna does not act now to obtain more police officers, we will not have them available to us for many years and crime will increase greatly,” write Ernest in an open letter to the city council.
He says West Kelowna residents are “tired of the crime rate increasing, speeding increasing, lack of response to B&E calls, and a general feeling our city is giving a free hand to criminals and vagrants.”
And he claims according to Statistics Canada, a city the size of West Kelowna—which has 32,655 residents—should have 60 police officers, substantially more than the 26 municipal officers currently approved.
“The city’s number one priority for its (residents) should be safety—fire and police,” writes Ernest.
Council will discuss the issue of policing Tuesday at its special council meeting to go over the 2018 provincial budget. That meeting will start at city hall at 9 a.m.
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