Staffing continues to be an issue at Salmon Arm’s RCMP detachment, although emergency services are being maintained.
Sgt. Andrew Hunter, the new detachment commander, was introduced to Salmon Arm council last Monday, where he provided a year-end report.
Hunter explained the detachment has five provincially funded officers and 19 municipal ones, but is operating with seven “operational deficiencies” due to medical and paternity leave, as well as four transferees trying to sell their homes before they can come to Salmon Arm.
“However, there are no substitute police officers,” said Hunter. “This situation is most burdensome to the remaining officers and their families who are left to fill the gap.”
Hunter was quick to assure councillors that 24/7 emergency coverage is provided through manipulation of the shift schedule, reducing training, and relying on volunteerism from the constables to alter their standard shifts.
Despite staffing challenges, Hunter advised directors that the overall crime rate was reduced in 2014 by 24 per cent compared to the previous year.
“This achievement builds on a continuous pattern of crime reduction over the past several years,” he said, pointing out the need for police service has not been reduced proportionately.
In 2014, the detachment responded to 6,477 calls for service, representing a police file being generated every 81 minutes every day. RCMP completed 2,314 traffic stops and arrested and housed 539 prisoners in police cells.
In terms of crime trends, Hunter said there is an overall decrease in violent crime, something that is often linked to intoxication, drugs and domestic violence. There was a 20 per cent decrease in property crime in 2014 but Hunter pointed out the challenges associated with getting a handle on travelling criminals who arrive in town.
In terms of drugs, Hunter says RCMP are targeting the big three – heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine.
“Methamphetamine and crack cocaine are continuously sold and used in our community, and heroin usage is comparatively high,” he said. “In the past few months, we have seen increased cocaine usage, and are putting plans in place to get that back in line.”
And Hunter pointed out, high-power weapons are very much present in Salmon Arm.
He reported on several drug busts in 2014, including one where a warrant yielded powder cocaine, magic mushrooms, currency and three firearms, including two assault rifles.
“The issue of assault rifles is not just an American debate on the right to bear arms,” he said. “Assault rifles are present in drug houses in Salmon Arm.”
While traffic remains a priority, Hunter said the lone traffic position has been eliminated because of the shortage of constables. Hunter noted that “new business and entertainment development” in the city will have implications for police time and resources.
Coun. Alan Harrison expressed concern about getting the detachment fully staffed before the busy summer season.
Coun. Kevin Flynn noted his shock at the statistics on drugs and assault weapons.
“We’ve approved 19 staff for the Salmon Arm detachment and there are currently five rural but there are seven vacancies of 19,” he said. “That’s 12 actually on the ground. I don’t know any organization that can operate on that – it’s a credit to them.”