A significant increase in population is prompting Sooke to seriously consider adding more RCMP officers.
On Feb. 21, council’s committee of the whole recommended that two officers be approved in the 2024 budget, two in 2025, and one in 2026.
Council endorsed the proposal in its five-year financial plan on Feb. 27. The request has been forwarded to staff to examine feasibility and costs, and will be discussed at a budget meeting later this month.
Mayor Maja Tait said increasing the complement of officers will allow more time for community engagement and enable council to take preventative measures to improve overall public safety.
Sooke RCMP Sgt. Kevin Shaw said adding two officers would be a “significant and mandatory step” toward providing 24-hour coverage.
“We’ve been working toward that for a number of years,” Shaw said.
He said that although adding two more officers would enable the detachment to shift toward 24-hour coverage, “That won’t be completed until we add two more in 2025.”
Sooke RCMP is an integrated detachment that receives funding from the municipality and the province. The District of Sooke pays for 14 of the detachment’s 18 officers, with the province funding the rest.
A Library of Parliament report in January of this year said the RCMP currently has 813 vacant positions, with 460 of those in B.C.
According to the staff report on the RCMP’s staffing request, the detachment currently has a workload well above the average, compared to police departments and detachments of comparable size within the Capital Regional District.
Sooke is also the only jurisdiction in the Greater Victoria area that does not provide 24-hour police coverage. The detachment currently relies on 50 hours of paid on-call coverage a week.
A staff report stated that staffing levels have not increased with the significant population growth in Sooke. The latest census information showed a 16 per cent increase in Sooke’s population between 2016 and 2021, while police growth dropped by eight per cent.
“The need and desire to work toward 24-hour police coverage for the District of Sooke are well documented,” the report states. “The Sooke RCMP is working closely with the B.C. RCMP and the province in pursuit of 24-hour policing as well. Without 24-hour coverage, police response to serious incidents is significantly delayed during the hours the RCMP is on call.”
The report also points out that the Sooke RCMP is equipped only to provide basic frontline response to incoming calls for service and thorough, complex investigations into serious or habitual criminal offences.
“Our capacity to participate proactively in our communities, both from an engagement perspective and a crime reduction/public safety perspective, is drastically limited due to resourcing and workload. Criminal investigations are increasingly complex and time-consuming with the continual evolution of legislation and case law,” the report stated.
It costs about $200,000 a year for the addition of one RCMP officer.