Tuktoyaktuk’s RCMP detachment needs one additional officer and Behchokǫ̀’s detachment needs 12, studies of NWT police staffing have found.
Those recommendations are contained in confidential RCMP research completed in 2020 and seen by Cabin Radio in redacted form. RCMP did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding the studies.
The research examined factors like how quickly police respond to calls and how many cases they must handle. Both reports found the demands on existing staff in Tuktoyaktuk and Behchokǫ̀ are too great.
The Behchokǫ̀ RCMP detachment also covers Wekweètì, the North Arm of Great Slave Lake, and a large part of Highway 3.
A report on the detachment stated a “significant portion” of the most urgent calls to police are delayed until officers finish dealing with other calls or an off-duty officer arrives to help. Calls about property damage, disturbances of the peace, and crimes related to the Liquor Act accounted for 49 percent of officers’ time in 2019.
“Behchokǫ̀ detachment GD [general duty] members are currently responding to calls for more hours than we should expect them to be available,” the report stated.
The current number of officers at the detachment does not allow for “proactive policing,” where officers engage in community policing or initiatives that reduce crime, the study found.
The report recommended adding 12 new general duty positions at the detachment to meet the needs of residents and ensure the “physical and mental wellbeing” of officers.
This would allow officers to take training and use their annual leave, access to which is also currently an issue, the report stated.
The number of staff currently stationed in Behchokǫ̀ and Tuktoyaktuk is not clear. That information is redacted in copies of the reports seen by Cabin Radio.
‘Doing as best as they can’
Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels confirmed police response times are an issue in his community.
“I think they’re doing as best as they can, trying to work in the community and trying to meet the call volumes,” Chief Daniels said.
“I think increasing the detachment would be helpful.”
Daniels said police are focused on Covid-19 measures while the community remains in containment. Behchokǫ̀ had 117 active Covid-19 cases as of Friday evening. Alcohol has also been an ongoing issue for police, the chief said, and the community implemented a temporary alcohol ban last month due to public safety concerns.
Daniels said Behchokǫ̀ council meets regularly with RCMP but the pandemic has posed a challenge.
“It’s been a while since we sat down with the community and I think that’s needed,” he said.
Daniels wants more patrols along Highway 3, which for the most part currently lacks cell service. There has long been concern that the highway is dangerous, particularly during the winter, when large trucks head toward the mines.
Tuktoyaktuk police in ‘reactionary mode’
In Tuktoyaktuk, the report found officers were able to respond to calls in an average week but, at its current staffing level, the detachment does not have enough time for proactive policing.
“The detachment is in a primarily reactionary mode where members are going call-to-call with little to no time available during their shifts for patrols, community engagement, or preventative policing,” a study of the detachment stated.
The report recommended one additional general duty officer position be staffed. The shift schedule should be adjusted, the report added, to ensure officers are on call during high-volume call times and shifts cover more hours.
The report noted shift coverage and lengthy travel times can be an issue in sparsely populated areas. In Tuktoyaktuk, which lacks an ambulance service, RCMP often step in to cover other duties, adding to their workload.
NWT RCMP did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding whether any recommendations in the reports had been implemented since the studies’ completion last year.
It is not clear whether these were the only detachments studied or whether more reports were completed.
Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Erwin Elias said RCMP attend monthly community meetings and the hamlet encourages officers to involve themselves in the community.
“Right now I think there’s a lack, and we go through it every now and then,” Elias said. “It all depends on the crew you get, in every community.”
Elias said several community members have raised concerns about response to calls since 9-1-1 was implemented. The ability to call 9-1-1 across the territory to summon help has only existed since 2019. Previously, residents used local detachment numbers.
If they call 9-1-1, Elias said, residents now talk to an operator based in Yellowknife who may not be familiar with the community. He said that’s especially tough for Elders.
“People are feeling like they’re getting interrogated when they’re trying to report something, with all the questions that have to be asked,” he said. “I know that is the protocol, for the safety of the officers and stuff like that, but myself personally, I think it’s overkill.”
Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the NWT’s Department of Community Affairs, said after a 9-1-1 operator confirms a caller’s community, phone number, and that they need police service, they transfer the call to the RCMP’s Operations Communications Centre. At that point, an RCMP operator in Yellowknife will ask questions related to policing.
Katrina Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave in Yellowknife, said last October she felt the territory’s 9-1-1 service was understaffed and underfunded.
Boast said one full-time and three relief dispatchers have been added to the service since those comments were made.
Boast said interpretation services are available for more than 200 languages and dialects, including NWT Indigenous languages.
The department is now planning to review 9-1-1 service as it approaches its second anniversary in the territory.
Christian Leuprecht, an expert on security and defence, said problems RCMP face in the NWT are emblematic of challenges in rural communities across Canada.
“It’s partially a function of the resources we allocate,” said Leuprecht, a professor at Kingston, Ontario’s Royal Military College and Queen’s University.
“It can be difficult to attract individuals to those communities. It’s also a challenge to attract people from those communities to work for the organizations that provide these services.”
Leuprecht noted the RCMP has significant recruiting challenges.
“Inherently, the people who end up getting the shorter end of the stick are smaller, rural communities, communities that don’t have the political clout in Ottawa,” he said.
“I think what this calls for is a completely different way of providing police services. The best way we can serve communities – rural communities, and communities in the North – is to make sure they themselves are represented in the police force that is policing their community.”
Leuprecht said that means recruiting from those communities, ensuring police organizations are an attractive employer, and giving residents the skills, education, and experience to get those jobs.
He argued the RCMP needs to have separate employer status, which would give it more freedom from the federal government to recruit employees and make hiring decisions.
Leuprecht acknowledged, however, that the RCMP has systemic issues of racism and sexism and a strained relationship with many Indigenous communities. He said the underrepresentation of Indigenous people in the RCMP has added to that strain.
The territory’s Department of Justice announced in July that Fort Liard would be the first community in the NWT to pilot a community policing program. The three-year pilot aims to explore alternative approaches to community safety and crime prevention.