RCMP face more than a dozen vacancies in Thompson detachment

The RCMP detachment in Manitoba’s biggest northern city is facing 13 vacancies, including unfilled constable and leadership positions.

That’s according to an April policing report presented to Thompson mayor and council, which outlined the unstaffed positions.

The regular staffing for the detachment is 38, with three different watch teams, a group for general investigations and a position designated for traffic, the report says. The current vacancies include four admin positions, an inspector, a staff sergeant and seven constables.

“When you are down 13 members between staff and officer workers, it just means there’s a lot more overtime, so a lot more burnout,” Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook told CBC.

The vacancy number has not always been so high. According to previous policing reports to council, at this time last year, the Thompson detachment had two hard vacancies — a sergeant and a constable position.

A woman sits in an office.
The vacancy rate ‘just means there’s a lot more overtime, so a lot more burnout,’ says Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

From last May until November last year, there were never more than four vacant positions, according to police reports to council. In December, the number climbed to eight vacancies, including the staff sergeant position. By April, it had increased to 11 — by then also including the inspector position. 

But any numbers used to represent vacancy rates “are only a snapshot in time,” said Tara Seel, a Manitoba RCMP media relations officer.

“With transfers, promotions, retirements, new recruits, the numbers change frequently,” Seel wrote in an emailed statement.

The number of open positions with the Thompson detachment does not always mean bodies are not in place, Seel wrote. In some cases, a position might be “blocked” — meaning there is not a need for that position at the time, but RCMP do not want to eliminate it in case it’s needed in future.

“An example would be when a community’s population drops slightly, which affects the number of officers needed.… It shows up as a vacancy, but a police officer is not supposed to be filling it at that time,” the RCMP spokesperson wrote.

Thompson has one of the largest RCMP contingents in the province per capita, Smook said. The 2021 census recorded the city’s population as 13,035, but the mayor estimates it’s actually now closer to 15,000 on average, and can swell up to 20,000 on weekends with events.

There is a northern detachment that has officers assigned to other communities in the north, but if needed, it is a resource the Thompson detachment can utilize, the mayor told CBC.

“If anything we benefit from the northern district officers because if they aren’t busy in other communities, they will help in Thompson,” Smook said.

Seel also wrote that RCMP will “mobilize resources from outside detachments when required to ensure that all staffing levels are appropriate.” 

“Our top priority is the safety and security of those living in the communities we police, and we realize the key to doing that is having police officers in those communities,” Seel wrote.

But what is the demand in Thompson?

Overall call volumes down: report

Theft, break-ins, sexual assault and public disorder are all crime trends that have increased in the city when compared to call volumes from the same time last year, according to the April report to council.

The largest reported increase was calls for drug possession and drug trafficking, which saw the number of calls for service from January to April 2024 nearly double to 23, compared to 12 calls over the same period in 2023.

Meanwhile, calls for assault and aggravated assault, impaired driving, mental health, motor vehicle collisions were down.

Overall, call volumes dropped year-over-year, with 5,441 calls for service in the first four months in 2024 — an eight per cent drop from the 5,936 calls over the same period last year.

A sign that says RCMP.
Call volumes from January to April 2024 dropped compared to the same point last year, with 5,441 calls for service in the first four months in 2024 — an eight per cent drop from the 5,936 calls over the same period last year, a police report says. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

But not all calls should be going to police, the mayor said.

“The issue is that many times the RCMP are the first ones that are being called when in fact, there’s other places” that should be called, such as probation services or child and family services, Smook said.

In 2020, a four-year community safety plan recommended finding ways to reduce police intervention for non-criminal and low-risk social issues.

The city currently has a wellbriety centre, run by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak — an advocacy organization that represents First Nations in northern Manitoba — and has plans in place for a sobriety centre and a medical van. 

 “I’m really hoping that by this fall, a lot of the renovations will be done and you’ll see a difference in how we’re able to help people,” Smook said.

High demand for police: RCMP

But between the flux with population and a large service area, the demand for RCMP remains high, the mayor said.

“With Thompson, we’re only a community of 13,000, but we’re a service area for approximately 65,000,” including “a lot of transient population,” Smook said.

“We go through more members that just go to other places because it’s less the workload, but in general the RCMP are having trouble filling spots right across Canada.”

RCMP statistics from last year showed more than half of the provinces and territories that use the RCMP for front-line policing had vacancy rates in the double digits.

The Manitoba RCMP spokesperson acknowledged some of the biggest challenges in managing human resources are retirements and transfers, but the detachment always strives for a zero per cent vacancy rate. 

“We are always recruiting,” Seel wrote.