What options are available to increase the presence of the RCMP in Chemainus, and their pros and cons, will be explored in a report that will be prepared for the Municipality of North Cowichan.
Council made the decision to request the report after a discussion with Insp. Chris Bear, head of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, at its meeting on March 17.
The issue of the police coverage of Chemainus was recently raised by former police constable Terry van Seters, who worked at the now-closed Chemainus detachment for 12 years, who garnered almost 1,000 signatures on a petition asking for more police presence in the community.
Bear acknowledged that the response time for the detachment to respond to calls in the Chemainus area is 16 minutes, while it’s nine minutes in the rest of North Cowichan.
But he said 64 priority-one calls were received from Chemainus last year, compared to 811 in the rest of the municipality, and the detachment is working with increasingly limited resources and manpower.
“If we increase service in Chemainus, we’ll have to decrease it in other areas,” Bear said.
“It’s difficult to be everywhere. When we get a call, we do the best we can to deal with the situation, but other calls can start getting backed up. While the number of calls is lower in Chemainus compared to the rest of North Cowichan, we know we can’t turn a blind eye to them, but it’s the volume of the calls is what we need to look at.”
Bear said times have changed for police in his 27 years in the RCMP, and the amount of paperwork and reports to be filled out by officers has skyrocketed in that period, taking much time out of every officer’s work schedule, and away from other police duties.
“It’s time consuming and expensive,” he said.
“We are looking to the municipality to tell us what their wishes are, while keeping in mind that we must consider the safety [of the police officers] as well.”
As part of the petition requesting more police presence in Chemainus, Terry van Seters reminded council of a commitment a former council made in 1998 when the Chemainus RCMP detachment was absorbed into the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment to maintain eight officers in an expanded Chemainus region, with two officers working the area 24/7.
Van Seters said that commitment has not been honoured.
In North Cowichan’s agenda for the meeting, staff had noted that van Seters’s petition is not considered a formal petition as described under the Community Charter, and is intended for information only.
At the beginning of the council meeting, van Seters asked if a formal petition would provide any more incentives for the municipality to honour its promises to Chemainus.
Mayor Al Siebring said he struggled with the notion that council should be held responsible for a promise made by a previous council 23 years ago when the realities of policing, and North Cowichan’s budget priorities, have changed significantly since then.
“That promise was made by another council 23 years ago, and I have a problem with being asked to be held to it,” he said.