The St. Albert RCMP is currently trying to manage a nearly 30 per cent officer vacancy rate, and most proactive policing efforts and neighbourhood patrols are going to be scaled back in the months to come as a result, said the city's top cop.
“It's a major challenge because the reality of a vacancy rate that's approaching 30 per cent is we have no choice but to pivot from a proactive policing model to a reactive policing model,” St. Albert RCMP detachment commander Insp. Ryan Comaniuk said.
“If you compare it to fire services, for instance, that would be like them flicking the switch and saying, ‘We will only respond to fires, we're not responding to anything else.’”
St. Albert's RCMP detachment has an approved force of 70 officers. However, a dozen are on medical and parental leave, three recently transferred to other departments, and three vacant positions remain, meaning there are just over 50 working officers.
“We're often running at minimum levels because the operational footprint in the city needs to be maintained at a certain level,” Comaniuk said.
“I have to have a certain number of officers working at all times, and that's becoming a challenge.”
Comaniuk said by the end of September the detachment expects to welcome three officers transferring from elsewhere in Canada, but he isn't able to backfill the "soft vacancies" resulting from medical and parental leaves. Police services across the country are struggling with a slow uptake of potential recruits.
“This isn't a St. Albert detachment-specific problem,” he said, adding, “It is in the sense that we have to manage it at a local level, but there is a recruiting crisis across Canada.”
“The reality is we're playing catch-up from a three- to five-year period where there was little to no hiring (with) the pandemic, where police departments shut down their recruiting activities for the better part of two-and-a-half years, and we're seeing the results of that today.”
Until the three vacant positions are filled, and some officers currently on parental and medical leave return to work, Comaniuk said residents should notice a decrease in police visibility.
“We rely heavily on our general duty uniformed officers to provide additional services over and above ... so it's going to be noticed by the community,” he said.
“The community, in all likelihood, will start seeing the results of the resource crunch that we're dealing with here.”
Crimes against persons increase, property crimes stable
Last week the detachment released its quarterly crime statistics for April to June, and a year-over-year comparison shows crimes against people have gone up 17 per cent compared to the same period last year.
The main driver of the increase was a 48 per cent increase in uttering threats, of which there were 62 incidences this year between April and June compared to 42 incidents during the same period last year.
Overall, instances of assault, 114, represented nearly 44 per cent of all person-based crimes between April and June.
Property crimes during the quarter remained quite stable according to the detachment's statistics, increasing by just 1 per cent compared to last year.
Of the 773 property crimes that the detachment handled, 346 were for theft under $5,000, which is a 10 per cent, or 32 event, increase compared to the same period last year.
Offsetting the increase of theft under $5,000 was a marked decrease in the instances of mischief damage to property, which dropped by 41 per cent compared to last year.
Other notable statistics from the detachment's quarterly report include a 56 per cent increase in the number of reports (212) residents made about suspicious people or vehicles, a 39 per cent increase in the number of car accidents that caused damaged (365), and a 10 per cent decrease in the number of spousal abuse reports (163) the detachment received.
Despite the decrease in reports of spousal abuse during the quarter this year, the 163 reports represents a 12 per cent increase compared to 2019 figures.
Comaniuk was hesitant to offer an explanation for any of the specific increases or decreases as he said there are too many variables at play to say confidently why, for example, instances of uttering threats increased significantly.
“I try not to offer too much insight into that because I don't have the wherewithal to offer any ideas as to why we're seeing increases and decreases in certain categories,” he said.
“I think there's just a lot of variables in play here.”