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A new RCMP police academy for British Columbia

Note: Permission is granted for the following essay to be reprinted in any newspaper, provided the author info and disclaimer at the end remains intact.

Since 1885, the RCMP has been training recruits at “Depot,” its police academy in Regina, Saskatchewan. While the quality of instruction is not in doubt, Depot’s monopoly on training new officers could be hurting our national police force.  British Columbia needs – and deserves – its own RCMP recruit academy.

“E” Division is responsible for all provincial and federal policing in British Columbia. It also provides municipal policing services, on a contract basis, to 63 municipalities across the province. About one third of all RCMP officers work in E Div. That’s more than 7000 officers, making it the largest division in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Yet time and time again, there are media reports of staffing shortages. These shortages have real impacts on sworn officers, civilian employees and the communities they serve. It is, perhaps, not surprising that the yellow stripe protest originated in British Columbia. This protest has quickly developed into the largest police labour action in Canadian history.

Would officers still be wearing their yellow stripes if every detachment in BC was fully staffed? It’s tough to say. But what we can say is that a new police academy would improve recruiting and training outcomes. It would provide municipalities with confidence that detachment vacancies will be filled. It would create a more diverse candidate pool. And it would send a signal that the RCMP is changing.

Imagine your dream is to become an RCMP officer. You grew up in Kelowna, earned a degree from the University of Victoria, and now you live and work in the Lower Mainland. You’re excited by the Force’s existing commitment to allow you to return home to BC after graduation from Depot.

But there’s a problem: You’re in a new relationship, and you’re not sure it will survive a long-term absence. Or, maybe you have an aging parent whom you’re not in a position to leave for months at a time. Perhaps you have young children of your own. There are all kinds of reasons why someone can’t pick up and move across the country for six months.

Facing this dilemma, would you apply to the RCMP? Or would you apply to a municipal police department in British Columbia? My own choice, made over a decade ago, was the latter.

The winter in Regina certainly doesn’t help. At one point this week – the middle of April – it was minus five degrees Celsius, with winds of more than 20 km/h. And it snowed!

The end result is that instead of hiring the very best candidates, the RCMP is hiring the best candidates who are able to move to Regina.

There is a better way for our province. Pacific Region Training Centre, located in Chilliwack, is the most logical place for a new recruit academy. It is currently used by the RCMP to offer advanced courses to law enforcement agencies across Western Canada. In 2015, the facility opened a $20 million, state-of-the-art indoor firing range. The 60 acre campus has onsite living accommodations for over two hundred students.

Alternative locations include the new E Division Headquarters in Surrey, as well as the Justice Institute of British Columbia in New Westminster. So there are suitable places that exist now. This doesn’t have be a big project involving land acquisition, zoning, construction, etc. The first recruit class could be up and running in ninety days.

British Columbians are headed to the polls on May 9th. During the campaign it is important to discuss positive solutions to challenges faced by the RCMP. For more than 130 years, Mounties have been trained in Regina. Depot is a place that is steeped in honour and ceremony. Now it is time for the RCMP to create new history, and new traditions, by adding a second recruit academy.  Right here in British Columbia.

David Bratzer is a police officer in British Columbia. He is a certified police candidate assessor as well as an experienced field training officer. The opinions expressed in this essay are his own personal views and do not represent those of his employer.

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