The Kamloops RCMP is looking to beef up its constabulary in the coming years as public safety remains top of mind among residents.
On Tuesday (March 15), Kamloops RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky appeared before city council, requesting approval of a portion (2022 and 2023) of “roadable” officer targets in the detachment’s 2022 to 2027 strategic plan.
(A “roadable” officer is one who is able to patrol and is not sidelined due to illness or a leave of any kind.)
That plan outlines the need for an additional 25 police officers and 12 municipal support staff, to be added incrementally in the next five years. Between 2022 and 2023, the increase is five officers and three municipal employees. The city budgeted for 129 members and 51 municipal employees in 2022. In 2023, a total of 134 officers and 54 municipal employees were requested. Future policing needs into 2024 and beyond would come forward during subsequent budget talks and be reviewed by council.
The city budgets about $200,000 per police officer, including wages and equipment, and between $60,000 and $70,000 per municipal staffing position, the city’s corporate services director Kathy Humphrey told KTW.
The request may not even hit the budget for a couple of years, Humphrey said, because of challenges in recruitment, officers on leave and other factors. Officer numbers are currently below approved levels and the city is only billed for officers actually working.
Council approved the request by a vote of 8-1. Mayor Ken Christian and councillors Dale Bass, Dieter Dudy, Sadie Hunter, Mike O’Reilly, Bill Sarai, Kathy Sinclair and Arjun Singh voted in favour, while Coun. Denis Walsh was opposed.
Lecky detailed to council a number of challenges facing the force, including a high crime rate compared to other municipalities with a population of more than 15,000 people. The crime rate is the number of criminal code offences, or crimes reported, for every 1,000 people. Kamloops’ crime rate in 2020 was 116. The average B.C. crime rate was 83.
Lecky told reporters criminal code files range from theft to homicide. The most prevalent crime in Kamloops, he said, is theft, but assaults and threats have been on the rise. Time-consuming missing persons files have also increased, with 697 files in 2020 and 813 files in 2021. Other challenges include high officer caseloads, increased homelessness, changes in policing and officers on leave. Lecky said the city’s rising population and natural disasters are also driving the need for more officers.
Asked if additional officers will drive down the crime rate, Lecky responded: “Well, you’re asking me to go on the record and predict the future and I can’t do that. I can tell you it gives us opportunity to address it in a more tenable manner and that is one of the goals for it, is to address all public safety needs, whether it’s crime rates or visibility, the issues we have as Kamloops grows, the downtown storefronts, you name it. It gives us opportunity to address whatever the issues are.”
Lecky said even as crime rates decline in other communities, public scrutiny has gone up with social media.
Employee wellness is also top of mind for Lecky.
“They’re not getting the time off they deserve, they’re supporting all kinds of efforts, through no fault of anyone,” he said. “Whether it’s pandemic, flood, you name it, fires. We need to be able to give people time off to be able to recover and live their lives with their families. Wellness of our staff is, I’ve got to say, one of my top priorities.”
Walsh questioned long-range planning, suggesting the city wait to determine what impact the new community services officer program and social housing growth may have on the crime issue. He said to project needs into 2027 is a “crystal ball move,” noting an additional 25 officers equates to an extra $5 million in costs.
Singh noted challenges of RCMP officers in addressing certain issues, such as calls to women in distress. He asked if Lecky would support looking into other models, such as one based out of Eugene, Ore., which includes diverting some calls to team of mental-health workers and clinicians. Singh said of 24,000 of calls to that team in one year, police were only used as backup on 150 occasions.
Singh requested statistics on how many calls police attend at which they can’t do anything. Lecky said those numbers could not be immediately provided, but noted he is always looking for ideas.Lecky added that he supports safe supply and community courts, which are also in the RCMP’s strategic plan.
Christian said the city is open to best practices, while O’Reilly spoke in support of additional policing resources.
“I’m very happy to increase the RCMP members that we have in this community,” he said, noting he has heard from residents that they don’t mind paying more for safety.
Policing is the city’s single largest expense, amounting to about $27 million of the municipality’s $124-million budget
Policing costs have recently risen as a result of a new federal RCMP contract that includes raises retroactive to April 2017.
Editor's note: The portion of the city's budget that comprises policing has been updated with information from finance director Kathy Humphrey.