Since I have taken on the task of writing about policing issues, I would be remiss, I suppose, if I made no comment on the current union drive inside the RCMP.
Members recently have taken to making yellow ribbons out of their pant stripes, or covering those same stripes with pink tape as a form of protest over the latest wage increase. At the same time they are filling in union cards, and have now accumulated about 9,000 names.(There are about 20,000 officers in the RCMP, not including civilian and public servants who make up another 10,000), They are being defiant in talking to the media, and it is all being driven by the officers in uniform for the RCMP.
It is being reported as something new, something which has finally come to a head over the recent disparity in pay between Municipal versus our National emblem police Force. The discontent and the fundamental problems run much deeper.
It is actually a fight that has been going on for decades, a fight which was often stymied by an archaic para-military structure, which refused or willingly ignored normal labour, staffing, and management issues. And for the last twenty years an organization, which has ignored the “general duty officer”, the uniform on the street. And it is the uniform officers who will need to lead this call for change.
The uniform officer in the RCMP has been the middle brother in a large family for years, often treated as a 2nd class citizen in the new world order of policing as envisioned by this more allegedly sophisticated policing entity. The management in Ottawa became political, or more accurately, politically correct, layering demand after demand on the uniform personnel in terms of how they did their job. There are two provinces in this country that do not even have a RCMP uniform presence, so maybe even out of sight out of mind, for those charged with formulating policy at 73 Leikin Drive., where you would have to drive to Parliament hill to see a Mountie in uniform.
Managers have been long refusing to address issues which were central to basic policing. In particular, patrol issues, which revolve around more mundane and basic needs; equipment, shifting, staffing levels, replacing officers on maternity and paternity leaves, shift differentials, levels of supervision, isolated posts, and increasing stress levels to give just a few examples. There has been no accounting for differences in the different areas of the country. There is no consideration given to an officer working in Moose Jaw or Moncton, and that they may have significantly different needs to the officer in Surrey, British Columbia.
You have to understand that almost every RCMP officer, starts their career wearing a uniform on the “front line” forming part of the “backbone” of the RCMP. However, from that point forward fast track advancement in the Mounties equated with getting out of the uniform. The incentives are great, to get off the abysmal night shifts, to go where there is plenty of overtime to be had, and where you are seen and treated as one step above the uniform officers. Believe it or not, they often threaten the wayward officer by threatening to send them “back’ to general duty policing.
This was not always the case. This has happened during the last 20 to 30 years, where RCMP Management fell in love with an FBI style model where headlines are gained by long and complicated successful investigations. It was no longer glamorous to be a foot on the street. It was more exciting and meaningful to be involved in wire-tapping, surveillance, and pursuing organized crime figures. They sort of bought into the TV image of NCIS, CIS and Homeland, and less the blue collar Hill Street Blues. The people that rose up through the ranks were the players in Major Crime roles, or in Federal Policing, or headed one of the proliferation of “integrated” units.
Staffing officers, and human relations roles, were often filled with officers who were tired of the street, on paternity or maternity leaves, or seeking just a 9 to 5 role. . They were no levels of expertise required, they just needed to be willing to go. The getting off of the street was the sole motivation, as the average police officer has no innate desire to leave operational policing.
Of course, while all this transformation is taking place, the uniform role is also changing rapidly. The public is video taping every interaction with the police, they are being accused of being physically abusive, often on little or no evidence, and they had GPS put in their vehicles so that management can monitor their comings and goings. What used to take two hours to handle a domestic dispute is now taking eight with the increase in forms and protocols dictated by Ottawa.
It is not widely known that when an RCMP officer goes off on paternity or maternity for as long as a year, they are not replaced. So if you are working in a small detachment with 3 or 4 on a shift and a couple go away for these reasons, no one fills in. You start the shift understaffed and your operational ability to respond is drastically reduced.
Although the violent crime rates are declining, the “calls for service” have not abated, with pocket dialled 911 calls, and more mental health issues on the street. You are now expected to administer narcotics to an overdose patient, be a social worker and therapist, much more than you are expected to solve or intercede any crime.
In the 1980’s the uniform officers of the RCMP had a major meeting in Burnaby calling for a union because of wage issues, and declining interest by management in the day to day needs of the police officers. They shouted down all the management personnel who came to speak and there was a tangible anger in the air. The RCMP developed the DSSR system to appease and quell the anger, which was followed by a pay increase, and in the end it stemmed the flow of discontent. Thirty years later the issues are the same, the focal fortifying issue as always is wages, but the real problems are much, much more numerous, and eating at the very foundation of the RCMP.
Throughout, the RCMP continues to cling to being the “National” police force and its storied past. They claim to be fighting all crimes on all levels. On the Federal, Provincial, and Municipal level. They are spread thin, maybe too thin to do any of it well.
Now with the Supreme Court ruling two years ago, the stage has finally been set for some sort of mechanism in place where the RCMP can negotiate their own wages and working conditions. It is still a few years off as they await passage of Bill C-7 which allows the RCMP to unionize and negotiate, but prior to that, Bill C-4 which will determine the rules to form a new public service union. This will all take time, as the government inches along at turtle speeds, and Justin Trudeau and his fellow Liberals does not seem to see the RCMP as a priority right now.
In its present form, in my opinion, it is unlikely the RCMP can even survive a possible eventual union. At least not on the uniform side of policing. Maybe, that is why the Federal government is suggesting that there be two parts to the RCMP entity, one being a civilian side to handle the administrative functions and the other only handling operations.
The handling of these matters has to be brought into the 21st century, and away from those officers who have little or no background in these key fundamental building block issues. Everything from harassment claims to expense forms need to be removed from their purview, they are not capable with filling these positions in house.
As an original member of the officers wanting a union in the 1980’s I applaud the latest efforts of the uniform RCMP. Their time may have come. But, do not believe that a wage increase is the panacea, do not just settle for another wage increase. The previous officers fell for that before. And realize that with increased control will come greater accountability.
The overhaul and change must be greater than where one stands in the police “universe”, and it must address all aspects of policing. This is a momentous task which is going to take a great deal of effort, far beyond applying some duct tape and making some ribbons. Choose your representatives wisely, and make sure the uniform group is over represented. It does not matter what group you choose to lead the certification, what is important is who makes up that group.
After all, you are the “backbone”, at least thats what they used to tell us. And don’t be tempted by the words of the newly minted head of the RCMP in BC, Butterworth-Carr who apparently stated “I believe an incomplete uniform undermines the distinctive role we play in keeping our citizens safe and secure”. I don’t know what that implies for the thousands of Mounties who don’t wear a uniform, but such is the wisdom of the top management right now. Commissioner Paulson not to be outdone, followed up yesterday in a press release saying ” I have to tell you how worried I am about the impact this will have on the citizens we serve”. The answer is nil of course, other than they may not see the police coming.. as easily as they did before, with that yellow beacon running down their legs. The public is much more attuned to the issues than Mr Paulson would like you to believe.
So good luck to all involved in this arduous, ongoing process, a battle which besides stamina will require a renewed vision, one that is not just about salaries, and hopefully, will not take another 30 years.