The West Kelowna RCMP detachment is so under-staffed when it comes to officers, even the watch commander has to go out and answer minor calls, according to the new city new top cop.
New detachment officer-in-charge Staff-Sgt. Leslie Roseberry told city council Tuesday even though she just started in West Kelowna last week, it was immediately clear to her the detachment needs more officers.
“We have fallen significantly behind,” she said, noting the detachment now has one officer for every 1,400 residents. That compares to a ratio of one for every 678 residents in Kelowna, one for every 761residents in Penticton and what she described as an “industry desired standard” of one officer for every 700 residents.
Compounding the problem is the fact the province has not increased the number of officers at the rural detachment despite an agreement to do so as the population of West Kelowna increased.
That fact raised the ire of council members, including Mayor Doug Findlater, who tried to defer the hiring of two more police officers this year to show the province West Kelowna is wiling to “play hardball” over the issue.
That attempt, however, failed and a majority of council voted to hire two more officers this year as recommended in the provisional budget.
“The City of West Kelowna must lead, not follow,” said Coun. Duane Ophus, who voted to hire the new cops now.
Both he and Roseberry noted the new officers will likely not be in place for at least a year because there is currently a shortage of new officers across the country despite the RCMP graduating as many recruits as possible to try and meet the demand from communities across Canada.
Roseberry’s predecessor at the detachment, Staff-Sgt. Duncan Dixon had originally asked for six more officers this year but that was deemed too much by city staff in preparing the provincial budget for council, said city chief administrative officer Jim Zaffino.
Roseberry said council can expect her to request at least two more officers each year for the next four years as she tries to increase detachment staffing levels to where they should be. Future requests will be discussed at deliberations in future years.
In the budget, a reduction of $300,000 in the current RCMP contract will help cover the cost of the new RCMP officers, meaning there will not be a direct tax impact to add them.
In her discussion with council, Roseberry—who comes to West Kelowna from White Rock—warned the impact of not increasing policing levels would result in crime continuing in the community “unfettered.”
She said with the current level of staffing, the detachment is limited in its ability to tackles tasks such as traffic and road safety, community policing, crime reduction, drug investigation and property crimes.
And she said the current heavy workload—that sees officers going from call to call to call without a break—is “taking a toll” on officers, affecting both moral and the amount of sick leave being taken.