The commanding officer of Saskatchewan's RCMP is questioning the expense of creating a new law enforcement entity in the province, saying that money might be better spent providing more resources to the RCMP.
Earlier this month, the province announced plans to create a new marshals service, which will have 70 officers and cost $20 million annually.
"Why is money being put into creating a new infrastructure with a new police service when we have the infrastructure available?" RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said during a Thursday panel discussion on rural crime at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities midterm convention in Saskatoon.
"We have vehicles, we have buildings, training is already in place, and equipment. All of those startup costs are significant," Blackmore said.
The province has previously said the new police service is not meant to take over the duties of the RCMP or municipal forces, but will support them by responding to areas with high crime rates, arresting people with outstanding warrants, and investigating farming-related offences like theft and trespassing.
SARM president Ray Orb said the municipalities association is still learning about the marshals service plan, but anything to help the RCMP is welcome.
"The key, I think, is to be able to reduce the amount of rural crime," Orb said. "We simply don't want someone else to replace the RCMP, but we want to complement them."
Orb said the SARM board will be meeting with Christine Tell, the provincial minister for corrections, policing and public safety, to find out more about the service.
Blackmore said RCMP are seeing an uptick in rural crime, especially around fuel and vehicle theft.
"We've had a report of 61 thefts of fuel this year from fuel tanks and from jerry cans and [an] additional 12 thefts from actual farm equipment. So a significant number, and we're seeing those on the rise," Blackmore said.
Tim Brodt, a farmer and president of the Rural Crime Watch Association, said his association is trying to be the eyes and ears to help RCMP thwart criminal activity.
Brodt, who is also a councillor with the rural municipality of Edenwold, said his RM is just 15 minutes from Regina and sees a lot of vehicles pass through the area.
"The big thing is just to watch out for new vehicles and stuff because we are so close to the city," Brodt said. "The biggest part of it is just to get to know your neighbours."
Blackmore said any piece of information can help the RCMP when crime occurs.
"You never know what piece of information … might lead to that ability for us to get a judicial authorization, a search warrant, to be able to search somewhere because we were able to place someone at a location based on the information."
RCMP staffing shortage
Blackmore said her police service is looking at a number of ways to increase the number of RCMP officers in rural areas.
"We're really working hard to work on our recruiting from individuals from Saskatchewan so that we have more applicants going into our training facility," she said.
"Since April 1, 103 new cadets are coming into the province, and there's another 18 that have been posted to Saskatchewan that are still finishing up their training," she said.
Orb said it's nice to have the RCMP training facility in Regina, which could help with recruitment, but law enforcement agencies across the country are having a hard time recruiting at the moment.
"We just simply need more officers," he said.
One way the force is trying to find new officers is with its Indigenous recruiting unit.
"Not only do we want to better represent the population in our province and have Indigenous RCMP officers, but it also allows those individuals to have policing experience as First Nations move toward self-administered policing in years to come," Blackmore said.
Orb said the response time it takes for RCMP to respond to calls is an ongoing issue in rural Saskatchewan.
Blackmore said several factors are at play when responding to calls, like weather and road conditions as well as the priority of each call.
"But at the end of the day, the geography is simply one of the challenges that's not going to change," she said.
"One of the best things about living in rural Saskatchewan is that you have lots of open space and lots of room to move. But it's also one of the challenges that causes us some difficulty when it comes to response times."
Changing the boundaries that each RCMP detachment patrols is also an option being looked at, Blackmore said.
"Some of those boundaries were created in the 1950s and haven't necessarily changed, [while] our population has changed in the years since that time."
Shifting the boundaries could make the process of getting to calls more efficient and quicker, she said.