Manitoba RCMP is planning to combine the detachments covering Flin Flon, Snow Lake and Cranberry Portage into a single detachment. Regional leaders are not happy with the plan.
Tara Seel, a spokesperson for Manitoba RCMP Media Relations, confirmed to The Reminder Sept. 19 that a temporary change was on the way for the three detachments due in part to staffing shortages. The changes are set to take effect Oct. 5.
"Due to staffing shortages and to better disperse workload amongst officers, there will be a temporary amalgamation of the resources in Flin Flon, Cranberry Portage and Snow Lake. What this means is that all three detachments will remain open, infrastructure will stay in place and resources will be shared. All three communities will continue to have policing services and calls for service will continue to be triaged and responded to on a priority basis," said Seel in a statement to The Reminder.
"It is imperative that we take care of our officers so they can continue working to keep everyone safe, and we cannot continue the current staffing models without leading to officer burnout."
Under the changes, residents would still call their local detachments or emergency numbers as normal if needed. No timeline for how long the change may last or whether officers already in the area will be transferred or moved were announced by police or confirmed by Seel, who said that the provincial force would be listening to public feedback on the changes.
"Alternative measures are also being considered, such as the use of the Community Safety Officer Program. We are engaged with the communities to see if this option is possible," Seel said.
"We have been engaged with community leadership about the amalgamation process and have been transparent about the changes that are forthcoming. This plan is fluid and if it is not working, we can change to adapt to the needs presented by these three communities."
Seel said RCMP would not be cutting back on the number of officers working or living within the communities.
"The detachments will remain open and people living in Snow Lake, Flin Flon and Cranberry Portage can be assured of a continued police presence in their community," she said.
"Officers will continue to live and work in each of these communities. What this plan allows for is to have officers from each of the detachments respond to and support calls in all three communities whereas the current model has officers remaining within their detachment areas, in most instances. Moving forward, officers will go where they are needed, in any of those communities."
Local and regional leaders are already up in arms over the change, with several saying they do not support the amalgamation.
This includes the Town of Snow Lake, Hudbay, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, the Snow Lake Elks and the Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church, five groups who sent correspondence to Manitoba RCMP against the change earlier this week. A public meeting was held in Snow Lake Sept. 18 - dates for meetings in any other affected communities have not yet been made known.
"Snow Lake is an isolated community approximately a two-hour drive from Flin Flon, assuming an instant response time if officers from other communities are required to respond to an incident. This response time will put the public at risk and result in members of the public, as well as local emergency services, being potentially left without RCMP assistance for hours," reads the Town's letter, signed by Town chief administrative officer Alexander Fisher.
"This will jeopardize the safety of members of the public, local EMS, and volunteer fire department personnel when local officers are unavailable."
Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president and CEO Chuck Davidson, who is originally from Snow Lake and has lived in Flin Flon, also spoke up against the move.
"With rural residents concerned about law enforcement levels and police presence in their communities, we are concerned with a plan that would see a reduction of staff in the Snow Lake, Cranberry Portage and Flin Flon RCMP detachments," Davidson writes in his letter.
"Prairie provinces experience higher rates of rural crime compared to other areas of the country and several Manitoba municipalities are concerned about the lack of police presence throughout their communities. This also impacts local business's ability to grow and prosper and the potential attraction of new businesses to communities."
In Flin Flon, members of city council spoke about the change Sept. 19, with some members saying they were not in favour of the change and others saying councillors were not consulted before the change became known. Others said that conversations with local police confirmed that Flin Flon itself would not be seeing any reduction in police officers.
"I would say it's imperative that everyone who has a concern - and I would say every member of this community should have a concern, I have concerns as a member of this community - should go to the public meeting and get as much information as you can from RCMP," said councillor Steve Lytwyn, who sat as deputy mayor at the meeting in Mayor George Fontaine's absence.
"My take on it would be if anything, we need more policing here, not less, and if we're all sharing our officers around, I don't know how that will work."
"They kind of make their own plan. We don't get to tell them what to do - they tell us that this is what they're doing, then we can lobby, we can have conversations, but ultimately they're their own body," said councillor Alison Dallas-Funk.
"We have not met with them. We have not met with them. We have not sat at the table, as a council, and had this discussion with them at all."
Officers from the local detachment did speak with City chief administrative officer Lyn Brown, who said she'd received assurances that Flin Flon will keep the same number of police it has now after the change goes through.
"What I can tell you is there will be no reduction in staff in Flin Flon," said Brown.