By JOE FRIES
Mounties have found themselves in a catch-22 as they lobby the B.C. government for more officers to ease the burden created by the new Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver.
Since it opened in January, the jail – which is currently only about a third full – has generated 58 police files, according to RCMP Staff-Sgt. Kirsten Marshall, acting commander for the South Okanagan.
Most of the calls have been for DNA samples and fingerprinting, but there has also been a handful of assaults.
In anticipation of that extra work, the RCMP twice over the past two years submitted business cases asking the province for two new officers, but were denied each time.
S/Sgt. Marshall said the requests used statistics from other communities with jails, such as Kamloops, to extrapolate the expected demand on policing resources in Oliver, but the province wouldn’t budge until it got hard numbers that didn’t yet exist.
“Now, as the data is coming in, we actually have something more tangible that we can start to lean on,” S/Sgt. Marshall on Thursday told the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, noting it remains the Mounties’ highest-priority staffing issue for the area.
In the meantime, she continued, the Oliver detachment has been sending a reserve officer to the jail once a week to handle the bulk of the routine matters.
“But as the prison’s just opening, we expect there to be an increase. (The reserve officer) may end up being there two, three days a week,” said S/Sgt. Marshall, adding the system could fall apart if that extra help isn’t available.
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes told her he’s concerned, because the detachment is “understaffed as it is,” and he had received personal assurances from the B.C. government that it would address such issues.
“I still hang onto the letter I got from the attorney general and public safety minister that states that any increase in policing services at the correctional facility… that they would take care of that,” said Mayor Hovanes.
“Don’t get me wrong: The correctional centre has been great for the South Okanagan with school enrolment and housing development and all kinds of things for the community it’s been great, and the jobs being offered.
“But for your peers, I can see it being a real concern and we feel that we need to be there to support them,” he told Marshall.
Meanwhile, RDOS directors were also introduced to incoming Supt. Ted De Jagger, who next week will assume command of detachments in Penticton and the rest of the South Okanagan.
Supt. De Jagger (pronounced: dee-yagger) is currently wrapping up work in Mission.
He told the RDOS board he will make communications with residents and local governments a priority, and will be “coming at the concerns of the community with a wholesome and holistic view.”