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Letter: How much RCMP should Hinton have?

Dear Editor:

Policing is one of the most important things the Town of Hinton does, for two reasons. First, protecting citizens from crime is a very basic function of government. Second, it’s a big part of our budget, with expenditures on the RCMP soon to exceed $2.5 million out of $29.5 million total. So, as we start drafting the upcoming budget, we really should take a comprehensive look at what we’re doing, why and how.

Recently the Town received a report from the RCMP “Hinton Municipal Detachment Multi-Year Financial Plan, April 1, 2023 to March 31, 2028”. It indicated that our RCMP staffing levels (1 officer per 530 citizens) are about 40% higher than Detachment averages for towns with around 10,000 to 20,000 people (1 officer per 835 citizens). The extra 7 officers over other communities our size seems to be costing Hinton taxpayers over $1 million per year.

For perspective, we have policing levels comparable to some of Canada’s bigger cities including Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, which have 1 officer for between 510 and 606 citizens (Edmonton Journal March 29, 2018). The only places in Canada with higher policing levels are the vast, sparsely inhabited Yukon, NWT and Nunavut with 227 citizens per officer. And the report indicated that criminal cases per member for Hinton were 56.4, significantly lower than the roughly 80 cases per member typical of detachments serving similar communities.

So why does Hinton have such high levels?

Hinton is currently assigned 19 RCMP members, two for “General Investigation Work”. The Town pays 70% of these costs and the Federal Government the remaining 30%. But 20 years ago our Town had the same population, about 10,000, and only 13 RCMP staff members on the payroll. And we now have three different agencies doing traffic enforcement: Town Bylaw and our contract photo-radar operator plus the RCMP, which should reduce the work for Mounties.

No question, policing is very important.  And Hinton has had some recent critical incidents so we definitely want to get policing right. But are we actually under policed? Is crime, or unsolved crime, rising noticeably? 

I ask particularly because the above report also suggests that RCMP costs will soon go up between 18% to 25% over what Hinton Council currently pays. In part these cost increases result from a recent collective agreement the union representing RCMP members ratified with the Federal government that gave constables a raise in pay of about $20,000 per year effective April 1, 2022. And everyone wants RCMP members to be paid properly for their vital work.

We also want them to have appropriate equipment and technology for the difficult and dangerous job they do, from body cameras to ballistic shields, breaching equipment, and modern computer and radio gear. But before we agree to this increased spending, it seems desirable for us to have some sort of metrics to measure the impact of the increase. 

If we agree to it, will crime rates go down? Will the percentage of crimes solved go up? And are our numbers in these areas currently worse or better than other communities with fewer officers? 

It’s a big chunk of our budget so we should have some way to tell whether we’re getting what we bargained for.

With the budget process beginning, surely we need a vibrant community discussion on this topic. So if you have an opinion on our policing levels please let me know. 

It’s your town. It’s your money.

The ideas in this letter reflect only those of the author.

Stuart Taylor,
Member of Hinton Council

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