NAPS officers facing extra pressure from staff shortages
Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service Sgt. Jackie George has embraced her work in the communities by helping to alleviate NAPS’ ongoing shortage of regular police officers.
“It’s very nice to get back out to the front line,” said George, who normally deals with recruitment and media relations with NAPS. “I’m not only helping the community, I’m also helping out our frontline officers by being an extra person.”
George recently filled in for three days in Eabametoong and four days this past summer in Keewaywin.
NAPS Chief of Police Claude Chum said a schedule has been set up for replacement officers to ensure the communities have two officers on duty most of the time. He said the ongoing shortage is due to officers off on stress leave, sick leave and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It leaves our front line down,” Chum said. “So we’re actually using officers from wherever we can get them from. Jackie George is one of them, our drug unit downstairs — we send these guys up all through the summer into shortages all through the communities to help out, just for the basic coverage.”
Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus recently raised the issue in a letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, noting that NAPS officers do not receive the same support as municipal police or the Ontario Provincial Police.
“NAPS officers are working under conditions that can only be described as Third World,” Agnus said in the letter. “We are seeing upwards of 20 percent of the officers being off at any time because of leave or stress. This is the kind of levels you’d see in combat. We have officers going into violent situations without back up. They are lacking proper housing and many detachments are substandard.”
Chum is concerned about the upcoming elimination of 11 positions in March 2013, when the Police Officer Retention Fund ends.
“This is a big issue for us because we’ve come ahead so far with these 11 positions,” Chum said. “We’ve got the K-9, we’ve got our recruitment, our community service, our drug (unit) and we’ve got our front line people. It’s going to hurt us real bad to lose those 11 positions.”
Chum said NAPS is currently providing police services through a one-year extension of their tripartite funding agreement with the federal and provincial governments.
“It comes to an end on March 31, (2013),” Chum said. “We don’t know what direction Canada is going right now in regards to the First Nations Policing Program in Canada. We haven’t heard direction at all as to what Canada is doing.”
Although the federal and provincial governments have invested in some NAPS infrastructure after the Kashechewan police detachment fire that claimed the lives of two First Nation prisoners, Chum said there are still a number of substandard NAPS detachments that need to be replaced.
Chum also stressed the need for about 30 additional police officers so communities have an officer on duty at all times.
“We have one and two and three-man detachments,” Chum said. “We still need to get more resources in there with these people so there is an officer in the community all the time when they leave on rest days.”
Chum added that NAPS police officers have not had a pay increase since 2009.
“First Nations policing needs some kind of legislation behind it,” Chum said, noting that other police services operate under provincial or federal legislation. “That way we will have standards we will have to meet and governments will have an onus on them to provide proper funding so we can meet those standards.”
A Public Safety Canada spokesman, Jean Paul Duval, said in an e-mail comment that the federal government committed during the Oct. 31 meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for Justice and Public Safety to provide further information on the future direction and funding of the First Nations Policing Program as soon as it becomes available.
As for the Police Officer Retention Fund, Duval said Ontario was provided with a one-time payment of $156 million in 2008 for the program, and the withdrawal and distribution of funds for the program is the responsibility of each province and territory.
Meanwhile George and other NAPS officers asked to fill in are making the most of their time in the communities.
“I was able to offer my services to a female victim of a crime in terms of having a female officer take a statement from her,” George said about her Oct. 18-20 assignment in Eabametoong. “Also, I was able to assist the other officers in the later evening hours in the apprehending of a potentially dangerous person. Once we arrested him, I escorted him out of the community.”
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