Rod Booth, RCMP Chief Superintendent Northern Division was at the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako board meeting on Oct. 25, 2012. Booth has been on the job for a year as the commander of all policing operations in Northern B.C., which includes everything north of 100 Mile House to the Yukon, east to Alberta and west to Haida Gwaii.
Booth described a police force spread out over 37 detachments with 800 RCMP constables as well as 300 staff, and the challenges that face such a large and geographically spread out police service.
“The economy is the common denominator in terms of challenges that we are facing,” said Booth. “Not only in terms of street level activity but in terms of how we can manage the day to day operation of a huge operation in the north.”
Both unemployment and prosperity in a community bring particular difficulties. Unemployment and a depressed economy lead to easily recognizable social ills that require police resources.
“When things aren’t so good, it brings out all sorts of human weakness,” Booth said. “The end result of those human weaknesses engage the police.”
Booth was making reference to the increased call to respond to incidents of violence across the region. Burns Lake RCMP detachment St. Sgt. Grant MacDonald had earlier this year reported a 200 per cent increase in domestic violence calls for service in the Burns Lake area. This kind of increase is not unique to Burns Lake.
The depressed economy also brings with it a weak housing market meaning that officers find it difficult to sell their homes in one detachment when they are moved to another.
“If it takes a person six months to sell their home in Kamloops, then they don’t arrive at their new post for six months,” Booth illustrated. “It raises the issue of how we’re going to staff the vacant position in the meantime.”
The RCMP does not force senior officers to relocate to the north. While this means that every senior officer in the North wants to be here, it also presents the problem that freshly minted officers are heavily relied upon to fill staff vacancies. This leads to the possibility of a young and inexperienced police force.
“The only people that can be ordered to the north are fresh recruits,” Booth said. “It’s an investment to get them up to speed as a seasoned officer, but there’s enthusiasm, energy, recent knowledge, technological skills and a lot of enthusiasm. So it’s a good problem to have.”
The flipside to a down economy are the kind of problems faced by small communities that must deal with a sudden and large influx of temporary residents and camp workers.
“These are shadow populations of people living on couches and in basements. They create an increased demand on police resources.”
These shadow populations drove most of the question and answer period that followed Booth’s presentation.
Vanderhoof Mayor Gary Thiessen wanted to know if there was any way for the companies responsible for the proliferation of camp projects throughout the north could be held financially responsible for increased need for policing that they bring.
Booth agreed that it would be a good idea to explore the issue, but he felt that it was just as important for the RCMP and local communities to be involved with camp planning before the camps come to town.
‘Wet’ camps, camps were alcohol are permitted, and idle hands are the two biggest issues when it comes to camp planning. “Wet camps don’t work,” Booth said. “We know that.”
As for down time, Booth said that we need to be asking project managers and planners what is built into camp life to account for down time. “Do the workers have no days off so that they come in to camp to work and then go home with no opportunity for trouble?” asked Booth.
Mayor Thiessen was still concerned that dry, alcohol and drug free, camps aren’t enough.
“Even though they’re dry camps, the extra cash flow into the community brings other undesirables with it,” said the Thiessen. “These companies have a social responsibility to take care of those things in the community.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Booth. “But we can’t do it alone, we have to partner the those involved.”
“It’s strength in numbers,” Booth concluded. “We need allies to tackle those problems.”