RCMP Policing

For those whom may not fully understand the RCMP’s organizational structure, it is somewhat complex given the RCMP’s very broad mandate, and arguably a somewhat unique model in the world, for a number of reasons.  No other policing agency in Canada has such a spectrum of responsibility.  With the force now 150 year old, the RCMP’s modernization strategy is grounded in a number of factors, including the reports and reviews in the last several years that have made recommendations on organizational reform including: changes to workplace culture, improved governance and oversight and sustainability of operations.  In addition, the organization is experiencing declines in measures of public trust, recruitment and confidence due to several high profile incidents and awareness of organizational challenges.

For purposes of this paper it is easiest to imagine the RCMP as being organized in two pillars: federal and contract policing.  Federal policing encompasses the most serious criminal threats to Canadians, including national security, transnational and serious organized crime, and cybercrime.  Federal policing is a core responsibility of the RCMP that is carried out in every province and territory in Canada as well as internationally.  Contract policing is its other core policing function, provided through Police Services Agreements which are negotiated between the federal government and provinces, territories and municipalities.  Police Services Agreements outline the duties and responsibilities of the RCMP in financial, operational and administrative areas within the provisions of the provincial and municipal policing services.  A key element of RCMP contract policing services to be appreciated is that baked into it are that provinces and territories pay 70% of RCMP costs while the federal government pays 30%.  For larger municipalities, the cost share often shrinks to 90%/10%.

Over the past decade, RCMP federal policing resources have steadily declined as a result of government cost saving exercises and RCMP resourcing issues, while the contract policing program has continued to grow.  Public Safety Canada has stated, “Despite organizational efforts to become more efficient, significant funding pressures have persisted.”  In May of 2017, a resourcing review of the RCMP conducted by KPMG concluded that the RCMP’s overall funding envelope is not sufficient to support its mandate and activities, but addressing this is not simply a matter of increasing financial authorities or increasing cost recovery.  Subsequent reviews led by the RCMP and Public Safety Canada identified a number of systemic sustainability challenges affecting the whole of the RCMP:

•           contract policing impacts the whole of the RCMP, raises sustainability challenges, and limits resources available to rebuild and modernize federal policing;

•           since 2010 the RCMP’s ability to execute its federal mandate and responsibilities, and to keep pace with an evolving threat environment has diminished;

•           RCMP programs and structures have evolved to largely serve a generalist, front-line policing function as opposed to specialized business lines (i.e., federal policing);

•           the RCMP’s capacity to recruit and train enough police officers to meet demands across all business lines is challenged;

•           under-resourcing is resulting in police officer health and wellness concerns; and

•           not all costs related to policing in contract jurisdictions are being recovered.

It has been suggested that policing requires “a higher level of knowledge and training not to mention a more sophisticated understanding of certain crime types especially crossing any borders including international, provincial, municipal and digital, but also violent crimes, gang related, counter-espionage, liaison with other police agencies of like-minded countries, etc.”  I’d respectfully suggest that perspective is all too well understood by the RCMP.  Although the expertise needed to meet such mission parameters does currently exist within the RCMP (arguably more so than in any other Canadian policing agencies), it struggles in being effectively resourced (that which enables effective recruiting and retention).  We do know this: crime has globalized and increased in its complexity and at an ever increasing rate.  We also know that the flexibility and adaptability of all Canadian police agencies is challenged by resourcing and funding.  Globalization, increasing divisiveness and economic lethargy are significant influences on Canadian policing.  No agency is immune.

With respect to contract policing, I can say confidently that a more effective policing model is unlikely to be achieved solely through provincial police forces, or in the case of the Maritimes, via a regional police force.  As a provincial (and municipal) responsibility, effective policing services is expensive and risky while requiring public trust and significant financial investment to be successful.  With a lens of considering a move to stand-alone provincial or regional police service, it’s been said that before you can run, you have to learn first to walk.  In the current policing environment in Nova Scotia for example, it is almost devoid of meaningful policing standards, service exchange agreements or a unified modernization strategy.  These are all critical ingredients to ensuring there is an effective, interoperable police service delivery model for all Nova Scotians.  Currently, there is no true scalability of policing resources across NS policing agencies outside the RCMP.  Yet I believe it to be achievable, if deemed a priority. Almost all municipal police services in NS have come to depend on the specialized policing services baked into the RCMP as a national police service.  In NS, the continued dependence on the national police force to close service delivery gaps for its municipal police partners, alongside a lack of appreciation or acknowledgement of the true costs of delivering effective policing services, is in itself a reflection of that resistance to change.  As Drucker aptly said, culture eats strategy for breakfast.  In short, there is lots of work yet to be done modernizing existing NS municipal police agencies before there should be consideration of biting off more than can be effectively chewed.  To do so will take resolute political leadership and will, informed by advice and guidance of public safety experts.  Taxpayers, whom are largely uninformed about the nuances of an effective provincial/regional policing model and its associated costs, and who will be responsible for shouldering the full-lift of those costs, will not like the true cost of policing and an ever-increasing annual bill of a provincial/regional policing model.      

Perhaps for another day and another discussion, I believe there is more value in looking to a national policing model with national standards.  There is much to be learned from the UK’s national College of Policing (its benefits and challenges).

RUSI(NS) Staff

Editorial Staff at RUSI (NS). This work is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia.