Some advocates and local municipalities worry the uncertainty around the police transition in Surrey could make it more difficult to fill vacancies within BC’s RCMP detachments.

According to the latest statistics, detachments in British Columbia are struggling to fill vacancies in 20 per cent of the force’s full-time positions.

There are currently 518 officer vacant positions across the province — approximately seven per cent of the force’s total 7,200 positions.

The remaining 1,000 vacancies are “soft vacancies” created when officers go on temporary leaves, such as medical leave due to an occupational injury, parental leave, or leave without pay.

According to the RCMP, the number of “soft vacancies” changes daily as people return to work.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the RCMP attributed the vacancies to attrition, retirement, and lower-than-usual recruitment due to “a declining interest in policing.”

A composite of an RCMP shoulder badge and a Surrey Police Service badge.
The BC RCMP and Surrey Police Service are two police departments struggling to fill vacancies. (Ben Nelms/CBC, Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Burnout causing low retention, says researcher

Linda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, says part of the declining interest in the field is because of low job satisfaction.

She conducted interviews with hundreds of officers 15 years ago and said virtually all of them said they would not recommend joining the RCMP to their child.

“Since then, I’ve done big studies, one just a year and a half ago in the middle of COVID, on employee well-being, and no, things have not improved.”

Listen: CBC’s Alan Regan explains why there are so many police job vacancies across BC

The Early Edition7:55Explainer: why are there so many RCMP vacancies in British Columbia

Of the 7,162 RCMP officer positions in BC, 518 are currently vacant. Meanwhile, a further 1,000 officers are on leave. Our Story Producer Alan Regan looks into why.

Duxbury says retention needs more attention, and reducing workloads would go a long way toward solving that.

“If your current people are overworked, stressed, don’t feel supported, don’t feel respected, then, in fact, they’re not going to encourage other people to join the service,” she said.

The BC RCMP stated that it responded to vacancies by pulling officers from larger detachments to staff smaller ones. In larger detachments, sometimes specialized or plainclothes police officers are shifted away from those duties and into frontline operations.

The Pacific and North director of the National Police Federation, which represents about 20,000 RCMP members, told CBC’s On the Coast last week that conditions have improved for RCMP officers since the National Police Federation was certified in 2019.

“Prior to the NPF’s inception, we were paid significantly less than most municipal forces, most provincial forces,” explained Trevor Dinwiddie. “With COVID over for the most part and with the negotiated collective agreement that brings near pay parity to the RCMP officers, we have seen an incredible influx in recruiting numbers, and I’m very confident that we will be able to hit our numbers over the next year.”

Municipal police forces also struggled to recruit

But pay parity with municipal forces may not be the solution to the RCMP’s recruitment of women as those police departments face their own struggles.

At a 2021 meeting, the Vancouver Police Board heard that applicants to the VPD had hit an all-time low. The trend was partly attributed to the Defund the Police movement and the public reaction to the murder of George Floyd in the US

Duxbury says after those events, police everywhere felt heavily scrutinized as their interactions were increasingly videoed on the job and posted to social media.

After the BC government recommended Surrey continue its transition towards its own municipal police force, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth warned not following through with the decision it could pull RCMP officers from other detachments.

Last week, Langley City Mayor Nathan Pachal publicly stated that if Surrey reverted back to the RCMP, it would destabilize policing in Metro Vancouver.

But the Surrey Police Service is facing its own recruitment struggles with close to 500 job vacancies.

A criminologist at Simon Fraser University says the political discussion in Surrey is turning off potential applicants.

“Why would you put yourself forward to join an organization that is unstable?” said Rob Gordon, emeritus professor at SFU’s School of Criminology. “Why would you want to join when we’re not able to offer you an exciting, honorable career that has security of employment?”

Gordon says one of the key benefits to a job in policing is that it’s permanent and retired, and the political process around the Surrey police transition has put that in question.

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