Province directs Nelson to hire one more police officer

The provincial director of police services says Nelson should hire one more police officer and one more administrative position.

The provincial director of police services says Nelson should hire one more police officer and add one more administrative position.

Clayton Pecknold’s long-awaited decision on the Nelson Police Board’s 2015 budget request was released Thursday. The board had asked for two more officers plus the administrative position.

According to a news release, Pecknold also recommended the police board direct a further internal review of the department’s service delivery model to address gaps identified in his original review.

“This internal review would allow for the establishment of a board-endorsed action plan which will include the formulation of a multi-year staffing and resource plan,” the news release states.

More than a year ago, the police department asked the city for a $311,000 increase to cover the cost of two additional officers and an administrator, but council declined. The police board then appealed to the provincial director of police services, who has the power to investigate and declare the minimum number of officers required in Nelson.

Mayor Deb Kozak, who is also the police board chair, told the Star Thursday that she sees the decision as a compromise, and is relieved it will have no effect on this year’s police budget and therefore result in no additional taxation for 2016.

The subject will come up next spring in the city’s 2017 budget plan.

“This gives us time to absorb the decision,” she said.

During the next year, the city and police board will conduct the review Pecknold has mandated, which will give the city time to negotiate a new contract with local police.

Kozak said the review will look at whether the current duties of police officers could be done more efficiently and whether some duties can be done by civilians. She called this the “civilianization of police” and said it is a national trend.

“I just read a report from Edmonton, where they have cut back on budget requests and are working at helping police to modernize. And Toronto has a $1-billion police budget, so they are looking at what police are doing, and whether police need to be the catch-all for everything. So Nelson is not unique. This is happening across the country and not just in big cities.”

Asked if the review could result in no need for the officer Pecknold has mandated, Kozak said the city and police board will be in touch with Pecknold throughout the process. She said interventions in local police budgets by the director of police services are very rare, and the process was new to Pecknold’s office as well.

“It is our intention for the police board and council to come together and work this out and stay in touch with the director of police services,” Kozak said.

Mayors are required by BC’s Police Act to chair the police board. Asked which role she was in when being interviewed for this article, she replied: “I have been trying to tightrope walk both roles. Today I am trying to speak to you as both. It is a balancing act. My roles are separate but inimately connected because the groups have to work together. It is critical that we all understand how the service is provided.”

Police Chief Paul Burkart said he accepted Pecknold’s findings.

“I’m good with the decision and the report it was based on,” he said. “I think the consultant who interviewed everyone in the department as well as council and other parties did a thorough review. To me it is a fair ruling and something I think the police board and council will be able to deal with.”

Burkart also said that as a result of various staffing changes, they should be able to add the extra personnel for much less than previously stated.

“Although the number $311,000 has been bantered around for 14 to 16 months, it is going to be nowhere near that,” he said. “Even if we were to employ both those members, we expect to have no effect on the budget because of changes already implemented this year with the chief leaving.”

That included not filling the deputy chief’s position when Burkart was recently promoted to chief and instead adding another constable. One recruit is already in training and another will be hired this week following the recent resignation of Cst. Drew Turner and retirement of Cst. Bill Andreaschuk on Feb. 29.

Nelson’s police department is authorized by its board for 19 members, but has been operating with 17. The addition of the officer recommended by Pecknold would bring its ranks to 18.

Burkart said he is also fine with Pecknold’s recommendation of an internal review of the department’s operations. The consultant found some gaps that Burkart said the additional officers will fill, but also places where civilian staff might be able to take on clerical duties presently handled by officers.

“I’m certainly open to that, if we can find some efficiencies that we haven’t noticed before. If we can find different ways of working with other agencies including the RCMP and the city, we’ll look at that as well.”

Burkart said it will be up to the police board to decide who leads the review and how it is conducted, with input from city council and the director of police services.

— With files from Greg Nesteroff

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that the Nelson Police Department had an authorized strength of 17 members.)

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