A global drop in the favourable perception of police is making it harder for Saskatchewan's police services to recruit new officers.
Regina police Chief Evan Bray acknowledged at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting earlier this week that the problem is not unique.
"We just had a meeting yesterday with chiefs from across Canada, and every one of them talked about recruiting challenges," he said.
Earlier this week a report was released showing public perception of the service has dropped for the first time in 15 years. That slip is largely being attributed to incidents including the 2020 murder of George Floyd in the United States and the world-wide anti-police protests that followed.
Rhonda Blackmore, RCMP assistant commissioner and the commanding officer of Saskatchewan's Mounties, also acknowledged a reduction in applications after those events. However, she feels that perceptions can be changed, and one of the best ways to do that is for officers to get out in the community and interact with as many people as possible.
"Perceptions of individuals who don't have interactions with the police are often lower," she said.
"We really emphasize that — community engagement, community involvement. It doesn't have to be hours and hours. Some individuals spend hours coaching at schools or those types of kinds of things, but sometimes it's those five-minute interactions — just getting to know the people in your community and understanding your community."
More diverse candidates also needed
Bray admitted that in addition to simply hiring more officers, the Regina Police Service has to continue making an effort to reflect the city's diversity in its work force.
The service's 2021 strategic plan update, released in March, showed it continues to fall short of its employment equity goals. About 25 per cent of the Service's employees are women, well below its target of 47 per cent. It is also only halfway to its goal to have 14 per cent Indigenous employees and 17 per cent visible minorities on the force.
Bray agreed that the service has to interact directly with those communities to succeed.
"Gone are the days where you set up a career fair booth at the university and get people in a line-up to sign up. You have to out, you have to build those relationships in the community," he said.
"I know you've heard me say this before, but build them in a way that the community wants to come and work here or they want their children to come and work here, and they see themselves as part of this organization and they feel like when they're here their values align with the values of the organization and this is an inclusive place to work."
However, Bray is hopeful the service is making progress.
It has a number of outreach programs aimed at the Indigenous, new Canadian and gender- and sexual-diverse communities. In June it introduced a program aiming to ensure that women comprise 30 per cent of the force by 2030.
A swearing-in ceremony for new officers held earlier this week included 12 recruits, a quarter of whom are women.
The RCMP's recruitment department holds dedicated sessions focused on diverse groups that are more specifically targeted to address their concerns and questions, including newcomers and women. It also focuses on Indigenous recruitment through programs such as the Indigenous Pre-Cadet Training Program, which has been held in Regina for more than 20 years.
Blackmore says the service is focusing on Indigenous recruitment even if officers intend to find work elsewhere.
"As First Nation communities look toward self-administered policing possibly in the future, it would be very beneficial for them as well to have Indigenous applicants that are already experienced, rather than trying to establish a police force with all new members," she said.
Blackmore hopes to keep recruits from Saskatchewan in the province whenever possible to help serve familiar communities that may have vacancies at the moment.