For years, Sooke RCMP officers have worked to patrol more with less; a small detachment within a community among the fastest-growing in the province.
“It’s safe to say the discretionary time my officers enjoy is declining, which means they are just driven by calls for service,” Staff Sgt. Jeff McArthur told district council recently, adding there’s little time left over for proactive policing.
Census data released last month revealed Sooke’s population hovers slightly above 13,000 but is expected to reach more than 15,000 over the next five years.
The town is no longer a rural farming community.
“The crime is different now,” said Coun. Kevin Pearson, who grew up in Sooke.
“We’re a small community transitioning into an urban-like community. It’s not just the frequency, but the level of crime we’re seeing.”
The Sooke RCMP detachment has 15 officers, 25 percent of them are funded by the province for rural duties, but all work in and out of Sooke as required.
Last year, McArthur made a case to district council to hire one more officer.
In September, council approved $165,000 to fund the position. Sooke pays 70 per cent of that cost, or $114,200. The remaining 30 per cent is funded by the province. The Sooke RCMP detachment serves an area from East Sooke to Port Renfrew.
The new officer – a recruit – will arrive in Sooke by mid-April.
McArthur also said there’s need for civilian staff who support officers with administrative duties. The detachment has budgeted for four civilians, but only has two (another is on medical leave and one is yet to be hired).
If Sooke’s growth rate continues at its current pace, McArthur said more officers will be needed to keep crime on a downward trend.
There’s already pressure.
Council would like to see 24-hour police coverage in Sooke, but to have that would require at least four more officers, McArthur said.
“In an ideal world we would like to see more officers,” said Mayor Maja Tait. “We just have to consider where we can fit that into our budget.”
And that’s part of the problem.
As Sooke continues to grow, so does the crime – and the police bill.
Once the community tops the 15,000 population threshold, Sooke will need to cover 90 per cent of its policing costs, from the current 70 per cent.
“We know Sooke will grow, and people will continue to come. We want to maintain what we have, we don’t want to fall behind,” said Coun. Rick Kasper, pointing out over the past three years council has added a civilian and a police position.
“Council is doing its bit.”
Sooke gained negative national attention last June when a massive police manhunt ended with a standoff. The incident stretched local police forces to the limit.
Crime is inevitable.
Last year, Sooke RCMP officers investigated 6,015 files, or cases – a 13.3 per cent increase from 2010.
“We are a lot busier than in 2010,” McArthur said. “Realistically, we’re busier than the statistics are showing.”
Sooke Mounties laid 177 criminal charges last year and officers can investigate up to 700 files each.
Still, Tait is pleased with the police work done in Sooke.
“I do think the detachment is doing the very best it can with the resources it has and we’re very grateful for that,” she said.
“As for adding more police officers, moving forward, we’ll keep a watchful on that and make the moves necessary.”