Carleton North and Hartland councils’ policing plan misguided, says union representing RCMP

by | Nov 30, 2023

N.B. Public Safety Minister expected to approve creation of municipal force to replace RCMP in northern and central Carleton County

The union representing the 20,000 Canadian RCMP members, including those in New Brunswick’s West District, believes the District of Carleton North and Hartland councils’ plans to replace RCMP services with a municipal force is a mistake.

Through public statements and a letter-writing campaign to Carleton County residents, the National Police Federation said the councils failed to properly inform residents about the impact or cost to the communities’ taxpayers.

“Although the NPF welcomes policing service reviews, we are disappointed to see the Councils of Carleton North and Hartland move forward with a proposal for a police transition without meaningful consultation or transparency with residents,” the NPF said in a statement provided to the River Valley Sun.

The federation contends the cost estimates released by the Carleton North and Hartland Police Review Committee significantly underestimate actual costs.

“For the new police service, the councils’ projected operating costs of $3.2 million for year one and transition costs of $4.1 million simply do not square up with actual costs,” the federation stated.

It contends the committee neglected the costs of training, outfitting police vehicles, 911 dispatch services and the overlapping of the RCMP and new municipal services during the transition.

“This means that residents can expect the final bill to be much more,” said the NPF.

During two public forums held in Carleton North and Hartland on Nov. 8 and 9, Carleton North Mayor Andrew Harvey expressed confidence in the review committee’s cost estimates and proposed municipal force model.

He said the committee calculated the proposed force’s cost and level of service by examining similar municipal forces, such as the one serving residents of Beresford, Nigadoo, Petit-Rocher and Pointe-Verte in northern New Brunswick.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said.

The two communities plan to have the new municipal force take over police services by Jan. 1, 2025.

With the RCMP requiring at least a year’s notice before it can be replaced, the committee expects approval from New Brunswick Justice and Public Safety Minister Kris Austin by Dec 1. That would allow the two councils to approve the plan at their December council meetings.

A spokesperson for Minister Austin and the department said the policing committee’s plan is still under review and couldn’t confirm if the minister’s approval would meet the Dec. 1 deadline requested by Hartland and District of Carleton North’s councils.

“The department is reviewing the proposal from the local governments, and as the review progresses, the department will be in touch with the communities,” said spokesperson Sarah Bustard in an email response to questions for the River Valley Sun.

She explained any proposal for a new police force must meet all requirements identified in the Police Service Delivery Model Process Guide.  

While the minister has not officially approved the review committee’s plan, the department approved it to take the first steps, including obtaining a design and cost estimate to convert the former Florenceville-Bristol town hall into the central police station. It will also utilize the former RCMP station in Hartland’s town hall complex as a substation.

Retired RCMP District Commander Staff Sgt John de Winter, who agreed to chair the police review committee, acknowledged at the Hartland public forum that its plan is only feasible with funding support for transition costs.

He said the province would need to cover infrastructure costs, as well as the purchase of cars, police equipment, furniture and other equipment costs.

The department spokesperson did not confirm whether the province would help with transition costs, saying only that the department’s review includes cost estimates.

“It is a local government’s responsibility to fund policing for their community,” she said.

The NPF urged Minister Austin to consider the shortcomings of the police review committee’s proposal before signing off on the plan.

“We strongly urge Public Safety Minister Kris Austin to consider the violation of the process guide and pause this proposal until all voices are heard on this important matter, and all costs are accounted for,” it said in its statement.

Citing experiences surrounding transitions in other municipalities, the NPF said unforeseen costs drove up property taxes by 15 per cent. 

“It is unfair to the residents of Carleton North and Hartland that they were not consulted on an expensive and unwanted police transition,” the NPF statement said. “Even worse, when they had the opportunity to be consulted during Open Houses, both councils only presented their completed transition plan and said the decision had already been made. On the Councils’ rushed timeline and hidden proposed police transition, residents have not had the appropriate time or platform to engage on this important issue.”

During the public forums, de Winter said local RCMP officials remain in the loop regarding the committee’s study, adding the committee listened to their proposals to improve police services in the region.

“If the RCMP came back to this committee with a better option, we’d accept it,” he said.

Harvey said the lack of police presence in the community and the rising crime rate became the most significant issue during last year’s election campaign, prompting the two communities to take action.

The NPF said the review committee did not consider the RCMP’s efforts to improve services, including the addition of six new RCMP officers to the region when making its decision.

The review committee’s proposed staffing model submitted to the minister includes a chief, deputy chief, four platoons featuring four officers each, a court officer, a receptionist, four auxiliary police officers, two casual police officers and community resources.

The committee estimates the proposed model could improve policing while covering the 2,010 sq km and 13,500 residents for the estimated $3.2 million annually. That’s less than the $3.3 million annual budget the neighbouring Woodstock Police Force requires to cover 15 sq km and 5,500 people.

Woodstock also submitted a policing plan to Minister Austin to expand the town force’s coverage to include the former local service districts, which became part of the municipality during last year’s municipal reform.

Woodstock’s detailed proposal to replace the RCMP in its rural areas estimates a cost of $7.7 million to cover just over $500 sq km and a population of approximately $11,000.

The Woodstock plan would deliver 24-7 coverage to the expanded municipality but would require doubling staff levels to more than 40. That’s double the staff levels proposed by Carleton North and Hartland.

Although Woodstock submitted its plan to Minister Austin in May, Mayor Trina Jones said the department has yet to respond.

The department spokesperson said the situation in Woodstock and other municipal forces looking at expanded municipalities differs from that in Carleton North and Hartland.

“The Department of Justice and Public Safety is assessing municipal/regional forces and their respective service delivery plans for the areas that will expand to ensure they can provide adequate services to the public,” the department spokesperson told the River Valley Sun. “The Department of Justice and Public Safety will get back to each individual municipality with a police force in the months ahead to discuss the proposed plans and the way forward.”

Mayor Jones’ said the Woodstock Police Force cannot expand its police jurisdiction to its expanded community without funding support from other levels of government.

The department failed to commit to any financial support for police services.

“Government has implemented several initiatives over the past year with the goal to make policing more efficient. This work continues,” the Justice and Public Safety Spokespersons stated in an email.

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