By RYAN KING
PORT AUX BASQUES – Given the small number of RCMP officers stationed at the Port aux Basques detachment and responsible for policing the Southwest coast, there are understandable concerns that emergency response times may be affected. In addition, the lower number of personnel means that there exist unused homes that had been used to house area RCMP officers, but with rental properties proving scarce and home sales climbing, those houses might be put to better use.
Mayor John Spencer has expressed concerns about both during recent meetings of council, and says that the situation with the RCMP has been something council has been looking to correct.
“There are currently three vacant houses, all three located along Bay Street. On current staff levels, there are five covering areas from South Branch to Rose Blanche. Council has contended this is not enough,” says Spencer.
Furthermore, along with a lower number of officers than the town perceives as optimal, the position that oversaw policing matters in the region was relocated to Stephenville.
“The Sergeant position has always been a hallmark of the Port aux Basques detachment, the busy gateway region. This position has been transferred out to Stephenville. Council is not pleased with this move. Stephenville now coordinates policing needs within the Port aux Basques region,” said Spencer, who notes, “The officer in charge of operations for the entire West coast, and the Staff Sergeant responsible for the Port aux Basques detachment, have been very cooperative in meeting with Council.”
Council met with both, representatives from the Department of Justice and RCMP operations in St. John’s, to discuss the issues surrounding regional staffing. This meeting led to plans for talks involving more leaders from the Southwest coast.
“The plan is for an invitation to have community leaders from the entire Southwest corner from municipalities, such as Port aux Basques and local service districts, to meet with the RCMP to examine future policing needs within the area. That meeting proposed at the virtual meet held earlier has not taken place,” said Spencer. “Unfortunately, personal circumstances have dictated I be away from the office. As recently as last week, the Staff Sgt. in Stephenville contacted me regarding the status of our proposed meeting.”
The prospect of these talks may offer some hope, but current assessments by the RCMP have not warranted the posting of more officers to the Port aux Basques detachment.
“Basically, we have been told that statistical data does not warrant a return to the traditional policing levels of eight officers, with a Sergeant in charge of the detachment. Council has been adamant this number needs to be present. Given the unique geographic circumstances, and the traffic flow into and out of the region, having limited coverage within the area to just five officers at an optimal limit is insufficient. Contrasting the numbers at the Stephenville detachment of 26 members which, once again, we are told is based on statistical data indicating serious policing issues in that area, cannot be used as justification for limiting availability in Port aux Basques at any given time to five,” maintains Spencer.
When a tractor trailer and SUV accident halted traffic on the Trans Canada Highway near the Salvation Army / United Cemetery on July 22, the Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department was asked to step in and help direct traffic.
“There’s a couple more than we’re usually called for in the last two weeks. One was the tractor trailer and car just outside of Port aux Basques, past the substation for Newfoundland Power. The other one was the one on High Street, Monday morning,” confirms Fire Chief Jerry Musseau.
Given that many of the volunteer firefighters have been trained in traffic control, they were asked to take on these duties until more help arrived.
“We were asked to direct traffic, keep the road closed ’till they had some more help come in. Both of them we were asked to direct traffic. In both cases there was just one RCMP officer on scene. That was all that was available, according to the RCMP,” says Musseau. “You get incidents like that, with one RCMP showing up, and they told me there was no one else available, so I guess there is a staffing issue there for sure.”
The RCMP responded to inquiries, noting that partnering with local fire departments is not unusual.
“The RCMP works within the resources it has to deliver an effective policing service; this doesn’t mean we couldn’t use more police officers, but we must work within the funding envelop that we are given,” states Glenda Power, RCMP Director of Strategic Communications. “In terms of partnering with local fire departments for support during serious incidents or threats to public safety, this is a common practice in most jurisdictions here in this province and throughout Canada. Assistance would also be provided, of course, by neighboring RCMP detachments and specialized units, such as Traffic Services. The RCMP may also assist fire departments with scene coordination and public safety for evacuations, as one example.”
As cases involving violence and drugs continue to appear on the region’s court docket, the RCMP contends that this points to the effectiveness of the current staff.
“The occurrence of crimes involving drugs and violence is not isolated to any area of the province. The RCMP is seeing increased importation of multi-kilogram shipments of cocaine, which speaks to the activity here and the nature of the drug trafficking trade. This activity will present in our communities in the form of violence, break and enters and other crimes. The fact that there are charges seen on the court docket speaks to the effectiveness of investigations by our police officers that result in charges. Port aux Basques RCMP will continue to enforce to protect the communities we serve,” says Power.
While we are in bit of a housing crisis in this region, the RCMP notes that there is a due process for freeing these properties up to the public.
“Any properties owned by the RCMP that are determined to be excess are identified for disposal. Disposal is managed via Public Services and Procurement Canada, in accordance with the Government of Canada real estate disposal process. This process is dependent on various steps from the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Directive on the Sale or Transfer of Surplus Federal Real Property including Indigenous consultation and circulation to other Federal Government departments and other levels of government,” explains Power. “If there is no interest from Federal Government, Crown Corporations, Indigenous Governments, Provincial or Municipal Governments, the property would then be listed for private sector sale, usually via a local Real Estate Agent, in an open and fair transaction.”