Cumberland County residents say policing must change to meet current needs

·3 min read
A resident places a sticky note on one of his top priorities for policing — communication and transparency — at Thursday's public meeting in Parrsboro, N.S. (David Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
A resident places a sticky note on one of his top priorities for policing — communication and transparency — at Thursday's public meeting in Parrsboro, N.S. (David Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

Some people in Nova Scotia's Cumberland County believe the police presence in their communities should be more visible and emergency response times should be faster.

The first of four public meetings throughout the county was held Thursday evening with a goal of hearing the public's views on policing and how it can be improved in the rural region.

Around 50 people showed up to the meeting at the Parrsboro fire hall and brought up issues like not feeling safe in their homes, and increased petty crime and drug use in the community.

"I think that as society changes, so do our needs, and I think that our policing just needs to become current to the current needs of our community," said Kitty Brown, one of the residents who attended the meeting.

"I would love to see more education, more visibility, and I would also like to see co-ordination between the residents and policing so that maybe we can help to fill in some of the gaps."

David Laughlin/CBC
David Laughlin/CBC

Large pieces of paper were hung on the wall of the fire hall, emblazoned with eight significant aspects of policing.

At the end of the meeting, participants were asked to place sticky notes on the aspects they believed should be the top priority in the community. The three most chosen were response time, visibility of police, and communication and transparency.

27 officers assigned to area

Cumberland County is the second largest county in the province by land area after the Halifax Regional Municipality. In 2016, its population was just over 30,000 people.

It has 27 RCMP officers assigned to the area, excluding Amherst and Oxford. Amherst has its own police force and Oxford has its own RCMP detachment.

"You know, you can't be everywhere every second of the day, and ... we don't want to turn into a police state either. But I think we need more members and just more visibility in the community," said resident Allan Wheaton. "Growing up as a kid, we had a town police, [an officer] would walk the beat at night ... you don't see that anymore."

Municipal councillors have expressed concern about the amount of policing vacancies and backfill in the county.

Police review committee

Earlier this year, the Municipality of the County of Cumberland created a police review committee comprised of four councillors and four citizen representatives at the request of municipal council.

The terms of reference for the review were developed in consultation with the provincial Department of Justice. Council hired Narrative Research of Halifax to lead the public engagement portion.

The mayor of the municipality, Murray Scott, said the review is not about money, although the police budget is growing. In 2021-22, the municipality paid just over $4.7 million for policing, and it has budgeted $5.17 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

David Laughlin/CBC
David Laughlin/CBC

"It's a big area and policing is very expensive," said Scott, a former provincial justice minister and police officer.

"It's not a cheap venture, but it obviously is so important to communities to be safe and feel their communities and their homes are safe."

The next public meetings will be held in Springhill, Pugwash and Upper Nappan.

Scott said feedback will be consolidated into a document once the meetings are complete. The police review committee will make a decision next month about what recommendations they will make to council.

One of the options could be to issue a request for proposals to provide policing services within the Municipality of Cumberland. He said council should start making some decisions by November.