The RCMP in almost every field of endeavour for the last several years has been beaten up, the badge tarnished; the criticisms coming fast and furious, sometimes unfair, but more than often deserved.
They, meaning the management of the RCMP, have been displaying a lack of operational understanding, often proving themselves to be ineffectual in times of crisis or at critical investigational junctures. This has been in combination with an embarrassing lack of leadership in terms of managing their own personnel.
The RCMP’s inability to solve crimes, their inability to bring terrorists to successful trial conclusions, their inability to defend Parliament hill, and their inability to appreciate and anticipate sexual harassment civil suits costing hundreds of millions of dollars, have left this once proud organization, this policing icon to the world in shambles. Piece by piece it is being exposed and stomped on, while being watched over and supervised by ineffectual governments.
The current group of managers extoll the qualities of political correctness, strive at being inclusive; they are not known for principled steadfastness, successful investigations or timely intelligence gathering.
The RCMP does not operate in a vacuum. If internal ineptness is not enough they are also being hampered and hindered on several fronts, whether it is the judiciary and the Jordan rule, prosecution services hiding behind “substantial likelihood of conviction”, or a simple lack of resources and an absence of human relations policies.
The incestuous world of RCMP upper management is now being governed by a new leader, one known apparently for her inclusiveness, and as recently announced her willingness to go along with the mandate of the Liberal government. She has effectively declared herself a follower, not a hoped for leader.
Present day officers have been suffering for years from a flawed promotional and staffing system, an unsupportive management and an infusion of political correctness that has left this organization confused, struggling with 21st century issues, and in need of a complete re-build.
Many wonder how the RCMP has lost its way in such a profound manner?
The RCMP is being buffeted by wave after wave of 21st century standards and policies being forced upon a 20th century stultified organization. Nowhere is this more evident than at their flagship for operational policing in Canada, the Surrey detachment of the RCMP, its largest operational Detachment.
Located at 14355 57th Ave., in Surrey, British Columbia, its city sculpted flowered entrance belies a troubled organization. Behind this somewhat imposing concrete bunker style building the problems battering the RCMP play themselves out on a daily basis.
As any quantitative researcher will tell you, numbers matter, and an examination of the statistics coming out of this office are enlightening. (After a year long wait, an Access to Information request was recently received.) Questions have been asked about the makeup of the detachment, the deployment of resources to see what could be found out from this rather secretive group. It is believed that Surrey is an example of what is going wrong within the RCMP in terms of its operational capabilities.
First: the population of Surrey has been growing. In 2006, the population of Surrey was at 394,080; in 2016 the population was 530,443 an increase of 34% in those 10 years. So you may assume that there must have been a requisite change or increase in the number of occurrences or operational files generated by the RCMP just based on the increase in population? More people, more problems? (Most policing agencies base their requests for further manpower on the numbers, the more people the greater the need for officers, based on a police/per person ratio of anywhere from 1/600 to 1/900 for example) However, if you look closer you will find a different story.
The actual number of operational investigational files generated by calls for service went from 162,973 in 2006 to 185,801 in 2016. That is only a 14% increase. How can this be explained?
One theory is that the reporting of actual crime has dropped. Businesses in Whalley for example, which have been broken into a number of times simply are not reporting them anymore, keeping the numbers at an artificial low. Difficult to measure for sure, but the anecdotal evidence is strong.
It is also possible that the makeup of the population is changing; is Surrey becoming a wealthier suburb of Vancouver? Is the criminal element shifting further east? Also possible but not being measured as of yet.
So if the occurrences are not growing, because those numbers show an occurrence rate growing at only 1.5% per year, what about the actual types of crime: comparing the years 2006 with 2015.
**Homicide 11 15
Assaults 4,909 3464
Robbery 670 762
Abduction 144 45
Crim. Harassment 1, 708 1,907
B &E 4675 3786
Theft MV 4,769 3,291
Total thefts 15,068 15,262
*All Stats are from the RCMP Web sites. ** One should also note that homicides in Surrey are handled by IHIT, not resources of Surrey Detachment.
These are just a few examples listed on the RCMP Web site. What is striking is that the numbers are pretty similar even though nine years of growth have occurred. The crimes of 2006 are the crimes of 2015. Some went up, some went down, and in the totals: Criminal Code offences per population as measured in 2006 was 113.91; in 2015 that number was 97.74.
The 10 year average was down overall. So if one were to generalize, you would have to lean to the fact that the crime rate has actually decreased during this time period.
So if the investigational files generated has only grown by 14% in terms of actual calls to the police, then should we not expect to find that the Detachment has grown accordingly? The actual detachment size has grown at a staggering rate, despite the drop in crime and a very meagre growth in investigational calls, and despite cries for more officers.
The number of personnel now working in Surrey Detachment during this time period has grown by f 41.069 % .
The annual budget for the Surrey RCMP has gone to $144,981,000.00 in 2017. This is roughly 45% of the Surrey municipal government’s overall budget.
If we examine just one of the ranks in the building, the Sargeants for instance they have gone from 29 in 2006 to 73 in 2017. In strict pay dollars that amounts to an increase in spending on Sargeants who make a salary of $102,715 (not counting overtime) from $2,978,735 in 2006 to $7,498,195 in 2017.
The number of personnel working in the Detachment in all capacities has grown from 570 in 2006 to 837 in 2017.
There is a general theory in policing, that boots on the ground matter. The “broken window” theory of policing as espoused by the New York Police Department to great effect has become an accepted belief. That if you look after the small crimes, the rest will come naturally. In looking at the growth in Surrey detachment you would probably assume that the streets of Surrey are heavily policed. A police car and an officer on every corner.
One must bear in mind, that the face of operational policing in any detachment is the uniform personnel. They are the ones that take the calls, patrol the streets, and conduct the majority of the investigations that are generated day to day. The RCMP management continually call it the “backbone” of the RCMP.
The RCMP does not seem to agree or go along with the “broken window theory”. Remember the cries for help and the 100 new officers that were being promised in the wake of the murder of middle aged mom, Julie Paskall outside the Newton Wave Pool? The Surrey RCMP decried the lack of resources but promised all would be solved by an increase of 100 officers. (a perfectly round number and one wonders what formula came up with this)
Unfortunately what they say and do is quite different. For the last number of years and possibly decades, the uniform personnel have been treated as 2nd class citizens, and the RCMP management has taken this opportunity to enhance their plain clothes establishment, increasing the numbers and increasing the promotions, growing the policing empire. Upper management at this Detachment have thoroughly bought into the theory that everyone is a specialist, policing is more sophisticated, more in need of specialized education and investigation to combat the overwhelming problems of policing. They have become more of a Federal government department, fat with oversight, fat with overtime, fat with jobs that seemingly grow more distant from the actual job needs. They have lost sight of the core job of policing a City like Surrey.
All officers start on the streets, in uniform, but after three or four year service, most of the current crop of officers believe that their career path has to mean going to a specialized unit. The demographics of the last twenty years with senior officers leaving in droves, means that officers who once stayed on the road in uniform for 12-15 years have been replaced by officers of 3 or 4 years service. And these junior officers, in this environment feel that they should be promoted earlier and be allowed to go to these specialized units much earlier. The current experience of officers on the road has decreased to a significant and marked degree. With seniority declining, the level of experienced supervision has also declined.
According to our filed Request for Information, in 2014, the total police establishment in Surrey was 703. According to the statistics provided by them, there were 276 officers assigned to General Duty (uniform) for Surrey Detachment.
Remembering there are 4 Watches, that would mean on paper, 69 officers per watch. Unfortunately the RCMP is being misleading.
In actual fact for the years 2011 to 2017 the numbers on the Watch are actually between 40 and if being generous, 50 officers. So 20 or so officers per Watch, have been taken from the uniform side, and also seconded to specialized units. By simply moving the position numbers to the secondary units.
In 2011, when personally last in Surrey, we had difficulty sometimes putting 35 officers on the road, and were routinely calling in officers on overtime to reach the unwritten “minimum” of 35.
Nothing has changed much since 2011. Patrol officers continue to be swamped, unable to obtain meal breaks, unable to get done their 12 hour shift without an extra two hours of paperwork. They were and continue to be over-worked.
If off for prolonged sick leave, or for maternity leave, there is no replacement member put in their stead.
Meanwhile the Detachment managers have for years have been consumed by growth and the perks and enhancements that come with it. The upper echelon have come up through the plainclothes ranks and have become adept on growing departments, padding the payroll, and increasing the promotions, while on the road the uniform numbers remain virtually unchanged, sometimes at dangerous levels.
The “plainclothes sections”, rule the ship, taking their coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and throwing in a little time for the gym. Overtime is selective and plentiful. It is “easy street” in comparison to working in uniform.
These are the two worlds in the RCMP; both revolving in the same police universe, but seemingly unconnected. Pepper spray and tasers on one side, the laptop on the other side. The specialists are not encumbered by a gun belt with the numerous tools of the day, never tied to a radio demanding attention and attendance. They are sometimes “affectionately” referred to as the “carpet cowboys”. It is only natural that they lose site of, and then can not relate to the uniform officer in Estevan Saskatchewan, or the officer patrolling the King George Hwy in Surrey.
In this same orbit, is the uniform officer; tied to the radio, tied to the need for answering calls for service, tied to 12 hour shifts, infinite court, and infinite reporting.
This era of specialization is a mantra, it has taken hold and this general aggrandizement of the roles and ranks of the operations is now firmly ensconced. The Federal and Provincial governments buy the propaganda put out by policing managers giving credence to the theory that if you repeat something enough times, eventually everyone will come to believe it.
So with this increase in sophistication, the argument will be that they are more successful, it would mean more prosecutions, more success in the courts? Have prosecutions in Surrey have increased?
In the Annual Report for the Prosecution Service in British Columbia, in 2014/15 there were 59,447 number of accused persons approved to Court in all of B.C. In 2016/17 there were 63,733, a 6% increase.
In 2014 Professor Curt Taylor Griffiths of the Criminology Department at SFU did a study and found that Surrey had the “lowest crime clearance rates” in the Lower Mainland. Also, remember that this was the time that Surrey Detachment was asking and got “100 more officers”.
So clearly all this increased specialization, this increase in manpower, this increase in all these tactical units has not led to a great increase in prosecutions.
So where are those 100 officers that was going to be a solution to all the shootings and the increased crime around Newton.? They arrived but you can’t see them.
This disappearing magic act is easily explained. The officers who arrived quickly became absorbed in the operational monolith. The uniform officers already on the road took this time to apply for and get assigned to plainclothes, to be replaced by these brand new officers. So the detachment numbers increased, not the uniform officers on the road.
The numbers grew inside the building, not on the outside which was the public’s expectation. There was no increase in the number of “boots on the ground”, which was what was being promised. The taxpayers were duped. More “carpet cowboys” were created, maybe a new Sgt position.
So in this age of declining violent crime, (in 2016 it dropped 16%, in 2017 it dropped an additional 8%) how is that this detachment continues to grow, expand its promotions, expand its core base, and add to the increasing cost of policing in Surrey? How is it that the actual police presence on the road is static, while the ability to respond for calls for service remains virtually the same over the last several years, and the experience on the road is dwindling as is the supervision?
The Surrey Detachment flagship is a reflection of the policing times we find ourselves, and a reflection of the “new” management. Specialization, talking of diversity and inclusiveness, telling the governments of the day what they want to hear.
Uniform policing in the RCMP, its very core, is dying a slow death while bureaucracy rules. Growth of the mandate, growth of the secondary roles is more glamorous, more in keeping with a certain level of sophistication. It is safer, less in the public eye, less risk for a risk averse management group.
Meanwhile day to day policing is looked down upon, where people get sent if they are in trouble. Day to day policing is un-glamorous, 12 hour shifting, working on holidays, endless report writing, Crown Prosecutions sheets prepped while dog tired, all of which will be wrapped in legal arguments to be played out in courts for days on end.
Couple an inability to deliver a core service with thousands of claims of sexual harassment, internal investigations that would make many blush, unionization on the horizon, and unbridled self-promotion and you get a sense of further impending chaos with little or no sense of an ending. To the old observers and former participants it is futile, doomed to an awkward death.
To the few that hang on; the few that continue to work hard, continue to put the job ahead of their life and their family, they just shake their heads. They keep forging ahead, hoping that someone will care— one of these days.
As to those 100 officers that were received to solve the street policing problem in Newton; don’t look for them on the street. They haven’t actually disappeared. Go down to the detachment and peer in the windows facing 144th Street. That’s where they are, through the tinted glass.
And when you next see four police cars of baby faced officers, sitting in the Tim Hortons at 2 in the morning on Fraser Hwy, having their break of coffee and cruellers, don’t think ill of them. They are not being supported and it is probably their first break in a 12 hour shift. During their fitful sleeps between day and night shifts, sugar plum fairies are not dancing in their heads, they are dreaming of being able to one day sit behind those windows on 144th St. They want to be part of the new policing.
(In terms of full disclosureSurrey Detachment it was this writer’s home for 10 years. It is my alma mater, and I look back with fondness of my years spent there. I worked in uniform and in plainclothes)