Southwest Saskatchewan residents had an opportunity to provide input at town hall meetings on the RCMP’s proposed changes to its current deployment model in the region.
The Saskatchewan RCMP and the consulting firm MNP hosted town hall meetings in seven communities across the region from Jan. 13-16.
The series of meetings concluded in Swift Current on Jan. 16, where the town hall took place in the All Saints Catholic School gymnasium. It was attended by around 50 people.
The meeting started with a presentation by Supt. Kevin Kunetzki, the district officer for RCMP F Division’s South District, and Chad Lins of MNP.
The presentation provided an overview of the reasons for the RCMP F Division’s decision to review its current deployment model for the Gravelbourg, Leader, Maple Creek, Morse, Ponteix, Shaunavon and the Swift Current rural detachments.
Kunetzki emphasized no detachments will be closed in the region, that this review of the current deployment model is not a cost cutting exercise, and there will still be an officer presence in the communities served by the RCMP.
The intention of the review is therefore to determine how the RCMP can do better within the context of the challenges they are facing in 2020.
“I don’t think the system that we have in place right now can be any more challenging,” he told the meeting. “So I’m challenging our current model in this area for that reason also. Can we do better, can we come up with a different type of deployment model.”
The presentation listed several reasons for the RCMP’s review of the current deployment model in the southwest. These factors are changing demographics, RCMP policies and protocols, the large geographic jurisdiction, the changing forms of crime, and the recruitment and retention of members.
The purpose of the study by MNP is to identify options for a deployment model that will provide the RCMP with more flexibility to manage staffing needs. The study will assess the feasibility of a super-hub policing concept for the region.
Kunetzki noted the super-hub is a concept that is broader than a deployment model. The intention of the super-hub is to look in a different way at how officers can be deployed in the region to be in areas where they are needed, whether it is for special events or to assist with a problem that cannot be handled only by the local detachment.
Four questions were presented to town hall participants to consider and to provide remarks on. These questions are: What are your concerns regarding safety in your community? What are some positives of the current deployment system? What are some of the challenges with the current deployment system? What, in your opinion, can be done to address the challenges?
Kunetzki reflected on the town hall meetings in an interview after the conclusion of the Swift Current meeting. Although he did not hear anything unexpected at these meetings, he was surprised by the level of anxiety over the loss of services. He felt they were able to dispel some of the rumours that were out there before the meetings, for example with regard to the super-hub concept.
“People automatically think we've got a service delivery model figured out and this must be what that means, that everybody is going to live in a certain location and they're all going to drive to the other locations from there,” he said. “So then that starts to spread and you try to get on top of that, but these issues are complex. You can't necessarily solve them in a two-minute press release. It requires a discussion between people and the community to understand what it is we're facing and some back and forth communication. I think that happened at every meeting.”
It was for purely practical reasons that the RCMP decided to select southwest Saskatchewan to review the current deployment model.
“It's almost like the analogy why did you stop me for the traffic ticket, there was another vehicle that went by,” he said. “We need to try somewhere and when we're addressing some of these challenges, I don't know that we can take a whole province or we can take a whole northwest region of Canada and say we're going to try and apply this. When we talk about change, we have to take baby steps to learn and adapt. So maybe we can make a few changes here, how do they work, that worked here, can we do it now in another area.”
There was a large turnout of several hundred people at each of the town hall meetings in Leader, Maple Creek and Shaunavon. Bill Clary, who lives on a farm near Leader, attended the public meetings in Shaunavon and Leader.
He felt people were concerned about the prospect of change to the current model of policing in their communities.
“Most of us like the idea of having policemen that live and work in our community, and the big point there would be that they live in our community as well,” he said. “That's where folks were coming from. They were approaching the topic from the standpoint that they weren't exactly encouraged by the idea that there was going to be a dramatic change.”
He noted that the reference to the super-hub concept in the public notices for the town hall meetings created an impression that the RCMP already had a particular plan in mind, which caused confusion for people about the purpose of the public meetings.
“The answers they gave was that this is just a preliminary step and they're just gathering information,” he said. “So the main thing they seemed to be saying was that we're just here to listen to what you have to say or concerns that you might have, and I personally didn't think that people were satisfied that they understood exactly what was going on or that the answers to the questions brought a lot of clarity.”
People’s reaction to the RCMP’s review of the current deployment model is also influenced by the fact that they have previously experienced the loss of services in rural areas.
“So everything is being pulled away from the community in terms of decision-making and the impact of that is we get less and less say,” he mentioned. “Part of this thing about centralization is that we don't feel as connected to a lot of those services we used to have a lot of say in.”
Clary is concerned that communities will not have any real influence in the outcome of this review of the deployment model.
“The gist of my concern is the nature of the relationship that we have with the RCMP,” he said. “Our general thought that we have around that relationship is that we're partners. We have a common goal, a common interest, but the way this whole thing was presented was like we are more like a subordinate. That they're here to gather some information and then they're going to tell us what it is that's going to happen. I guess the power dynamics of that relationship to me are out of place, and that it's unlikely that what it is that they're going to come up with is going to be all that satisfying for us.”
Shaunavon Mayor Grant Greenslade was still concerned about the implications of a new policing model after he attended both the town hall meeting and another meeting for elected officials and business owners in Shaunavon.
“They came right out and said they would allow their officers to live in Swift Current and commute back and forth,” he noted.
He believes that kind of arrangement will be contrary to the benefits of a community policing model, where officers stay in the communities where they are working with their families. He said it matters if officers leave the community at the end of their shift.
“They're not a part of the fabric of the community,” he said. “They don't understand that the man standing on the end of the corner that looks like a homeless man is in fact one of the pillars of the community that donates most of his money to different things.”
He did not think the town hall meeting really addressed the concerns of people about the need for a study to review the deployment model.
“Everything about this whole study is vague,” he said. “They say the whole idea behind it is retention and recruitment. Well, if you need help with retention and recruitment, we're pretty good at doing that down here in Shaunavon. We've done it with the physician recruitment committee, we've collectively come up with ideas and solutions. So why wouldn't they come to us first and say here's the problem, what can we do to help, but instead they hire Meyers Norris Penny and they ask two questions during a town hall meeting.”
In addition, Greenslade is concerned that taxpayers will not have any insight into the findings of this study by the consultant.
“I asked straight up if we could have a copy of it, and I was told flatly no,” he said. “And here's the other thing. The say they're investigating it, but then why have they changed the name of the detachment to the Cypress Regional Detachment. That tells me their minds are already made up and they're going to go ahead, do this regional super hub that is disastrous.”
MNP was contracted for a six-month period, which started in November, to conduct this study and the consultant’s report to the RCMP is due towards the end of May. Residents can still submit their comments and responses to the four questions to MNP. They can e-mail their feedback to Victoria Penner at: email@example.com