So Vancouver Island, you want to defund your police?

So Vancouver Island, you want to defund your police?

Examining what a nearly $10 million RCMP contract gets the people of Campbell River

Policing has been put under the microscope in 2020.

The death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer, sparked protests that spread across North America bringing attention to systemic racism and brutality, and added voices to a call to “defund the police.”

Governments in Canada began looking into how policing is done in this country.

In July, the provincial government created an all-party committee tasked with reviewing the Police Act. Federally, the chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission Michelaine Lahaie expressed concerns with the RCMP’s handling of wellness checks and mental health calls.

RELATED: RCMP watchdog joins voices calling out ‘unreasonable use of force’ in wellness checks

According to Insp. Jeff Preston, the commanding officer of the Campbell River RCMP detachment, these high-profile incidents do not have any effect on local operations.

“I can’t say that we’ve reacted to media reports, because I can’t change operations because of individual incidents that have happened in the [United] States or somewhere else in the country,” he said.

“Nationally, we do have headquarters that review policies and procedures when they see that they’ve had a couple of incidents, maybe one in B.C., one in Nova Scotia or three in Saskatchewan. They’ll say maybe there is something here, and they need to look at it from a national perspective, but I can’t just react to individual incidents that happen around the world.”

“The vast majority of times we’re able to de-escalate and sometimes they do turn physical or violent, but we’re given a set of tools to deal with that so that we can try to end that situation with the least amount of injuries to anybody,” Preston said.

“Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with mental health situations, they’re very unpredictable because people are not necessarily thinking rationally. It’s just an unpredictable situation and you don’t know how people will react to just the sight of an individual,” he added.

An important aspect of the future role of police is the amount of money detachments and departments receive. Campbell River is on track to spend just over $9 million on the RCMP in 2020.

“This funding, at 100 per cent is approximately $9.1 million, and of that the city is responsible for 90 per cent, which is about $8.7 million,” said city manager Deborah Sargent.

The provincial government covers the other ten per cent, while an additional Indigenous Policing officer is funded through the federal and provincial governments at around 52 and 48 per cent respectively.

Operationally, most (78 per cent) of the total $9.1 million goes to members’ salaries. The local detachment has 45 municipally-funded members.

RCMP member salary figures are publicly available at the RCMP website. Cadets are paid $525 per week through their 26-week training, and if they graduate are hired as constables starting at $53,144. After three years, the salary generally is increased to $86,110 for the constables, before overtime and benefits. Higher ranks are paid higher salaries, which top out at $146,735 for superintendents.

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Also according to the RCMP website, the majority (62 per cent) of non-civilian RCMP members are constables.

The other 22 per cent of the Campbell River detachment’s budget goes to equipment, clothing, services like fingerprinting, building maintenance, training and administration costs.

As the major funder of the RCMP contract, the City of Campbell River works with the RCMP to determine the priorities for enforcement and coverage.

“We sit with the city council and ask them from their perspective what they would like to see from police,” Preston said. “We also have things that we see that the city council may not see. They may not be aware that there’s a domestic violence issue going on in the community, or drunk driving, they just may not see that.”

He added that those priorities are fluid and not the only focus of the local detachment. He also speaks with First Nations leaders in the area to determine other priorities. Those include domestic violence, drugs and public safety.

“If you make everything a priority, nothing’s a priority,” Preston said. “We try to be strategic about focusing on issues that are having the biggest impact on the community at a particular time or year and trying our best to minimize that. You’ll never stop all crime from happening, but you try to minimize the effect it’s having on the community.

To city council, the main priority is the downtown core with a focus on “alcohol-related crime and disorder issues,” according to Sargent.

“The City of Campbell River is a growing community that is rapidly urbanizing,” she said. “We have our bylaw officers working hand in hand with our RCMP to address some of the inappropriate behaviours that are happening in the downtown area and are of real concern for our business community that is working very hard to make the downtown a very welcoming place for everyone,” Sargent explained.

“We get a lot of requests for service for things like dealing with some of the inappropriate behaviour in our downtown streets,” she added. “We can deal with a lot of that through bylaw enforcement. They work very closely with the RCMP, but if there are actual criminal code offences, then only the RCMP can deal with them.”

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One of the city’s strategic priorities is helping the vulnerable population. To that end, the city has committed to promoting housing projects that work to get people out of situations of homelessness.

While the city is not mandated to provide social programming under the local government act, they have set some money aside to help with social issues. They operate an annual grant of $100,000 that council can give to various groups in the city. However, the social wellness grant is around one per cent of the amount allocated to the RCMP. That annual grant makes up most of the social services portion of the city budget.

“Keeping in mind, we’re not directly responsible for delivering this. We’re not a social housing provider, but we’re absolutely in partnership and we’re taking a progressive and proactive approach to ensure that we identify needs in our community and then work with other provincial agencies and non-profits to actually deliver,” she added.

These partnerships typically do not have a monetary value attached to them and do not fall under any budgetary line item in the city’s financial plan. Some functions that do benefit the social well-being of the city also fall under other areas of the budget.

For example, a new senior planner was hired in June to focus on housing and social development. The funding for that position will be under staff salaries and will not appear in the city’s budget until 2021, Sargent explained.

Partnerships are important to the RCMP as well. That includes compiling resources, working with agencies like the John Howard Society, mental health workers and crisis centre staff.

Those partnerships often come at the request of the other agencies, including things like criminal code violations that only RCMP can deal with, and for RCMP to escort mental health workers to remote locations.

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