(Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Agassiz RCMP staffing in limbo over funding

The Agassiz RCMP needs another member, but Kent council thinks the province should pay for it

The Agassiz RCMP needs another member, but political back and forth over who should pay for it is leaving the position up in the air.

“Policing has always been a provincial issue,” Kent CAO Wallace Mah said. “The simple fact that the province has downloaded a lot of these provincial responsibilities to municipalities is a concern.”

In 2018, statistics from the Agassiz RCMP indicated to Kent council that it was time to bring another police officer into the community. Neither Kent nor the province wanted to pay for it.

The issue, according to CAO Wallace Mah, goes back to 2009, when Kent’s population jumped the 5,000 mark and the district became responsible for their own policing costs.

The previous year, there were 12 police officers in the Agassiz detachment, all funded by the province and the federal government. In 2009 there were still 12, but seven were paid for by B.C. and five were paid for by the district.

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Those numbers remained the same until 2014, when both Kent and the province increased their officer count by one.

The problem? Kent doesn’t believe the province really increased the number of officers operating out of the Agassiz detachment.

Before 2014, Agassiz had a shared officer with Hope RCMP who was responsible for educational awareness, and did work with the D.A.R.E. program in schools.

In 2014, that officer was brought over to Agassiz to become a full-time constable, assisting with calls and criminal code offences that weren’t part of the job before.

For mayor Sylvia Pranger, however, “eight plus zero is still eight,” she said.

“That’s kind of how I see it.”

Now that the needs of the Agassiz RCMP have increased once again, the district is hoping they can convince the province to “step up and fulfill what we believe they said.”

Sgt. Darren Rennie with the Agassiz RCMP declined to comment on specifics while it was still being discussed by the municipality and the province.

He did say that the RCMP provides statistics to the province and municipality on the police to population ratio, criminal case loads and the total calls for service.

According to Mah, the criminal case load is the most important indicator as to whether the RCMP needs more resources.

In a provincial report from 2017, officers in the Agassiz RCMP were said to be dealing with around 64 criminal code cases a year.

(For context, Chilliwack and Hope municipal officers deal with 80 a year, while provincial officers in Hope and Boston Bar deal with 47 and 28 a year respectively.)

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For Pranger, adding one more member to the Agassiz detachment would do a lot to alleviate the stress on current members.

“You can always say adding and adding and adding doesn’t make crime go away,” she said. “But it helps the officers if they have the numbers that can fill in.”

There’s no doubt that having an extra member would be a benefit to the Agassiz detachment, Pranger said. She’s now trying to talk to the province to get them to pay for it.

For the municipality, adding an extra member would cost around $120,000. (This covers 70 per cent of the cost — 30 per cent is paid for by the federal government — and includes things like salary, benefits, the detachment building and any support staff.)

In the district, that $120,000 represents around a two per cent tax increase for residents.

According to Mah, council would “like to bite the bullet,” but they just don’t have the funds.

“We just don’t have the tax base to fund policing on a regular basis, especially when your community, like Agassiz, is at capacity in terms of growth,” Mah said. “We’re pinched for land, and we can’t get land out of the … ALR, so we can’t grow and develop.”

“If you don’t have the people … it makes it very challenging to continue to administer all the rising costs and inflation of policing,” he added.

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The district has been in conversation with the province about the issue of RCMP staffing in the community, most recently meeting with staff members for public safety minister Mike Farnworth on July 11.

Council and Kent staff are hoping to meet with Farnworth during UBCM this fall to discuss the issue further, and get a sense as to whether the province will pay for another RCMP member in the community.

“We did our part when this agreement was made,” Pranger said. “(We) believe the province should do theirs.”



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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