Understaffed Mounties relax dispatch rule to bolster NL ranks

Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Ebert, the RCMP's commanding officer in Newfoundland and Labrador, says recruiting about 30 vacancies is one of her top priorities.  (Terry Roberts/CBC - photo credit)

Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Ebert, the RCMP’s commanding officer in Newfoundland and Labrador, says recruiting about 30 vacancies is one of her top priorities. (Terry Roberts/CBC – photo credit)

To strengthen its ranks, the RCMP seeks to attract more recruits from Newfoundland and Labrador by making them more likely to return to their home province after training.

“We can’t commit to that. We cannot guarantee it. But if someone is from here and wants to come back here, they can request that it be brought here,” said Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Ebert, the province’s highest Mountie.

Typically, graduates of the RCMP training depot – between 800 and 1,000 cadets annually – complete their six-month training course and await their marching orders wherever they are needed in Canada.

But the RCMP is struggling to fill 30 vacancies in Newfoundland and Labrador, so it has introduced a list of measures to attract new recruits and attract experienced officers from other police services across the country.

One of these measures is to give new civil servants more say in their work. One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that more and more people are choosing to stay closer to home, and the RCMP hopes to capitalize on this trend.

“We have a number of vacancies to fill, and until we fill them, we can think about it,” Ebert said. She explained that new officers are being assigned across the country to ensure the 20,000-strong national police force can maintain public safety, but if all officers assigned to Canada’s easternmost province have Newfoundland and Labrador roots, “then so be it.” .

RCMP is not immune to a broader labor shortage

Like many jobs, the RCMP faces labor shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted recruitment and training programs. The stress and strain of the job also thins the ranks, making potential recruits think twice about a law enforcement career.

David Bell/CBC

David Bell/CBC

The result? An 8% vacancy rate at the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is above the national benchmark of under 6%. The vacancy rate does not include officers who are unavailable for front-line duty due to illness or other types of leave.

It has forced RCMP leaders to get creative to ensure an adequate staffing of some 470 officers in its 42 departments and a coverage area that includes 80 percent of the province’s landmass and 60 percent of the population.

“It’s probably the #1 talking point we have about recruitment and staffing and what we’re doing to increase recruitment,” Ebert said.

For the first time in several years, the unit has a dedicated recruiting officer: 23-year veteran Cpl. Peter Gosse, who said he’s “getting a lot of interest at the moment”.

Policing with the RCMP is unique in that officers often have to relocate several times during their careers. Officers are also much more likely to be exposed to traumatic events than the average person, said Hue Martin of the National Police Federation, the union that represents RCMP officers.

“If you’re going to pursue a career as a police officer, you know there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it, and I think it might put some people off,” said Martin, who lives in Yarmouth, NS

But he said it’s also a very rewarding career, highlighted by the officers’ collaborations with the community and the police and scenarios where their mission to protect and serve can help citizens in difficult situations.

“Those are the moments we all focus on as police officers and keep us going,” Martin said, adding that the modern RCMP also has a strong fixation on the health and welfare of its members.

“The last thing we want is for our members to respond to dangerous situations where the public is threatened and our members are responding with insufficient resources,” he said.

Terry Roberts/CBC

Terry Roberts/CBC

The association also plans to demand more money from the provincial government to hire more civil servants in the province. Statewide, Martin said, the police officer-to-population ratio is 183 per 100,000. In Newfoundland and Labrador, he added, the ratio is lower at 169 officials, the third lowest in the country.

“We want to increase that number.”

The provincial government spends more than $90 million annually to fund the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador, boosted by a $17 million increase in the 2022 budget.

Attorney General John Hogan was unavailable for an interview, but a statement from his department said: “The province is continually reviewing budgeting and spending related to policing. We meet regularly with the RCMP to discuss service delivery and spending.”

Meanwhile, the RCMP is changing as it becomes modernized and more inclusive. You can now see officers sporting beards and tattoos, and male and female officers with long hair can sport ponytails.

It’s part of the force’s effort to become more flexible and welcoming, and Gosse hopes it will help him in his job as a recruiter.

“If you’re looking for excitement and adventure, we’ll hire and we’ll have a job for you and we’ll have a uniform to suit you,” he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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