Northwest Territories RCMP have confirmed no staffing changes were made at the Tuktoyaktuk and Behchokǫ̀ detachments after research highlighted the need for more officers.
Cabin Radio published details from two internal studies last week. The first called for one additional general duty officer at Tuktoyaktuk’s detachment, while the second said no fewer than 12 more officers were needed in Behchokǫ̀.
The Behchokǫ̀ report stated RCMP were struggling to respond to a “significant portion” of the most urgent calls for help. At both detachments, the studies found officers had too little time to proactively police the community.
Both reports were written in 2020.
In an email last week, NWT RCMP told Cabin Radio two general duty officer positions were created in Behchokǫ̀ in April 2020 through the First Nations Policing Program – but the Behchokǫ̀ internal study was released in November 2020. RCMP said the number of general duty officers in Behchokǫ̀ has not changed since then.
“The detachment commander and district officer continue to ensure policing response to the community of Behchokǫ̀ is based on the priorities identified by the community and any additional support is identified to ensure the policing standards are met,” the email from RCMP read.
“Ongoing community engagement via the chief and council occurs on a regular basis.”
The Tuktoyaktuk study was completed in January 2020. RCMP said the Tuktoyaktuk detachment’s staffing was also unchanged since that date.
RCMP did not respond to questions about steps taken to address concerns about response to calls or time for proactive policing, and declined to provide information regarding the RCMP’s NWT vacancy rate.
In an interview, NWT justice minister RJ Simpson said five positions were created NWT-wide through the First Nations Policing Program in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Alongside the two in Behchokǫ̀, there was one new position in each of Fort Simpson, Fort McPherson, and Tulita.
The minister said a cost-sharing agreement with the federal government meant those additional officers had to be placed in communities where the First Nations Policing Program already operates. The NWT government is responsible for half of those policing costs.
Generally, policing resources in the territory are determined by the Department of Justice and the RCMP’s NWT commanding officer.
The NWT contracts policing services to the RCMP under an agreement negotiated between the territorial and federal governments, where the NWT is ordinarily responsible for 70 percent of policing costs. The federal government is required to increase the number of officers within one year of a request – and accompanying financial commitment – from the NWT’s justice minister.
‘We’re never going to make everyone happy’
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Simpson said adequate policing had to compete for dollars with education and health.
“There’s always a lot of pressure and we always have to make difficult decisions,” he said.
“Ideally, we would have enough money to go around and be able to provide communities with the level of policing that would make everyone happy. But the fact is we’re never going to make everyone happy with the limited resources we have, so we do our best to put them in the places where we think they will make the most difference.”
Under the territory’s 2021 budget, $422,000 was allocated to add three RCMP constables in Yellowknife and $303,000 for a community policing pilot program in Fort Liard. That program will introduce community safety officers who respond to non-criminal safety concerns, develop and implement crime prevention strategies, patrol the hamlet, and build the community’s relationship with the RCMP.
Simpson said while that project is in its early stages, similar programs in other jurisdictions have proven effective at reducing crime.
“I would like to see this as an alternative to having to increase the number of RCMP,” he said, noting that officers in many NWT communities take on duties beyond policing.
“The community policing program is one way we can reduce the burden on the RCMP, to free up more of their time to do more of the things that they’re really needed for.”
There have been calls in a range of North American cities to reduce budgets for policing services – including the RCMP – or abolish them altogether, following the deaths of Black and Indigenous people at the hands of law enforcement. Advocates argue the money would be better used to fund more health and social supports.
Simpson said he has only received requests to increase the territorial RCMP budget, but acknowledged defunding the police is a “common refrain” in North America.
“I understand the logic behind it is you want to put the resources toward reducing crime and really attacking those root causes of crime, things like trauma,” he said.
“That is something we need to do, as well. The RCMP can’t do everything alone. They can’t reduce crime alone, we need a whole-of-government approach.”