One in 10 Mountie positions in B.C. sits empty, says a management report obtained by the Times Colonist. Jobs left unfilled due to medical, parental and other forms of extended leave push the vacancy rate to almost 16 per cent provincewide and to 17.4 per cent on Vancouver Island.
It raises the question of how the RCMP would come up with the officers to create a new 35-member detachment in Esquimalt, should the provincial government agree to that municipality's decision to do so.
"We've been trying to do more with less for decades. The work doesn't go away, it just gets spread on fewer people," said Carleton University professor Linda Duxbury, who wrote a 2007 report that said the over-tasked, underresourced RCMP was making its officers sick. "It is on the backs of the members. There's simply not enough resources to do everything."
A separate but similar 2007 report warned that the RCMP risked burning out its members because their workload was growing while the number of resources thinned.
Yet it's clear the problem has not been addressed in many areas of B.C., with detachments regularly calling in officers on overtime or having to borrow members from other detachments to reach minimum staffing levels.
But RCMP brass aren't willing to acknowledge shortages are affecting front-line policing.
"I just don't see it as a systemic problem in our ability to deliver the services with the resources we have," said Chief Supt. Kevin DeBruyckere, in charge of career development and resourcing for E Division, which covers B.C.
When asked if the shortages pose a public safety concern, DeBruyckere said: "No, I don't think so, given our ability to quickly deploy officers if an immediate need is identified."
Staff Sgt. Scott Warren, who represents the Island's Mounties on labour matters, is concerned. "Any vacancy rate is unacceptable if it affects officer safety and, as a result, public safety."
Warren said the situation is more dire when taking into account members on extended leave. "We don't have the manpower to back-fill those positions, so the vacancy rate becomes even bigger."
The vacancy numbers come from an internal RCMP management report obtained through an access-to-information request.
The force has closely guarded its vacancy statistics. It was one of the issues explored in a recent audit by the province's police services division prior to B.C. agreeing to a new 20-year contract with the Mounties. The province has refused to release the audit.
The numbers obtained by the Times Colonist outline the RCMP's strength in B.C. in October 2011.
Ten per cent of the 7,226 police jobs in E Division were unfilled, with extended leave pushing the total to 16.0 per cent.
On Vancouver Island, which is supposed to have 743 officers, the vacancy rate was just six per cent, but with 95 officers on extended leave the total rose to 128, or 17.4 per cent.
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, who has said for years the national force is understaffed by 5,000 to 7,000 officers, said the officer shortage will get worse in years to come as more senior officers retire.
Instead of the Conservative government passing tougher laws which will put more people behind bars, it should be investing in more national police officers to prevent crime, Kenny said.
"You have a federal government that prides itself on law and order but starves the Mounties," Kenny said.
"I'd rather see extra money for the RCMP to prevent the crime from happening, rather than paying for prisons to put people after they're arrested."
Read more: RCMP struggling to fill jobs, internal documents show (external - login to view)