North Cowichan is requesting that one additional police officer be added to the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, starting in 2018.
The decision was in response to requests from RCMP Inspector Ray Carfantan, who had asked that up to four additional officers be added to the detachment to keep up with increasing demands and work loads.
Coun. Tom Walker, chairman of the municipality’s protective services committee, said the committee had originally intended not to add additional officers for at least another year.
But, with the increased need for new officers in the region, he said the committee is recommending that North Cowichan ask the province that one officer be added to the detachment in 2018-19, with the possibility that more officers be added in North Cowichan’s five-year financial plan for the coming years.
Walker said that would bring the number of police officers the municipality is responsible for from 31 to 32 officers in the detachment, which currently has 59 officers when at full strength.
Coun. Al Siebring said that, with the construction of the new, approximately $23-million RCMP detachment likely not beginning in 2018, North Cowichan would have a “significant chunk of change” that had been earmarked for that project next year that could go towards more police officers.
He said he would rather have two new police officers added to the detachment in 2018.
“It costs the municipality approximately $175,000 per year per RCMP officer, which is about a one-half per cent tax increase,” he said.
“Two new officers would mean about a one per cent tax increase. We are all aware of the situation the police are facing here, and the fact that the City of Duncan has been recently asked to do something with the extra money it is putting aside for policing.”
Former Duncan city councillor Martin Barker asked Duncan’s council on June 19 to partner with the RCMP to form a task force with the sole aim of reducing drug use and related crimes in the area.
He said the task force, which could include a number of new police officers, could be funded from the city’s police-bridging capital fund, which is money Duncan has been saving every year in preparation for when its population exceeds 5,000 people and it will be responsible for a greater portion of its police costs.
Duncan’s council directed staff to provide a report on the options, impacts, and alternatives of Barker’s request at the meeting.
North Cowichan Coun. Kate Marsh said she’s uncomfortable with the notion that local municipalities should have to deal with the burden on their own of the areas’s drug and homelessness issues.
“I think the province and public health officials should be doing more,” she said.
“This is a North American crisis and I wonder if our taxpayers know that their taxes could go up so we can put a band aid on a social health issue.”
But mayor Jon Lefebure said Carfantan made his case for new officers independently of the growing drug and homelessness issues in the region.
“Inspector Carfantan said his request for more officers has to do with a 25 per cent increase in service calls (from the previous year) and the fact that there is almost no time for discretionary work among the officers,” Lefebure said.
“Certainly, more members would help meet the demands related to drugs and homelessness, but those issues were separate.”
Coun. Joyce Behnsen said she definitely sees the need to add at least two new police officers to the detachment as soon as possible.
She said the detachment has only added one new member since 2012.
“At the top of our list of needs is for more public safety, and the cost of extra police officers are not too great,” she said.
“Adding one at a time over the next five years concerns me. We should act sooner rather than later.”
But Walker said bringing in two new officers in 2018 would lead to a “steep jump in costs” to the municipality.
“That would mean other things would have to be dropped off our budget, and many people would not want us to get rid of planned bike lanes and other priorities we have made,” he said.