The union that represents the RCMP’s emergency dispatchers and operators is calling on the force to come up with a recruitment plan to fix worsening staff shortages.
CUPE Local 104 president Kathleen Hippern said hundreds of people are off on long-term sick leave, and she knows of many more who are looking for an exit.
“We’re so understaffed,” she said in an interview Tuesday, adding that many of the union’s members are women.
When someone dials 911 and asks for police, Hippern said members take the call and gather the information officers need to know before heading to a scene.
“Police are not moving until one of us answers that call.”
Hippern said that few centres are fully staffed, specifying that in Nova Scotia, staffing is only at about 50 per cent. In some cases, she said, regular uniformed members of the RCMP have been brought in to help.
“They’re that desperate.”
She said morale is “abysmal” and she believes the lack of staff is affecting public safety by leaving callers sometimes waiting for minutes before someone is able to answer.
“I’m terrified for any of my family members that have to call 911.”
The national force has yet to respond to a request for comment.
The RCMP has been struggling to fill its vacancies for years, with more-recent hiring and training efforts also hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The force has said it hopes to boost the amount of diversity in its ranks by hiring more women, visible minorities and Indigenous people.
The president of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP officers, recently said part of the problem stems from the fact that people are applying to join the force at a slightly older age, and members are retiring earlier.
As the force prepares to mark its 150th anniversary next month, Hippern said Tuesday that it needs a strong recruitment strategy.
Internal documents show the RCMP is hoping the anniversary will lead to a boost in applications over the next two years, The Canadian Press recently reported.
But Hippern said she knows of many people who feel that the RCMP’s plan to advertise and celebrate itself as a good workplace amounts to “hypocrisy,” arguing the force has failed to address the needs of many of its staff.
The union is also currently in bargaining with the force.
It contends that compensation levels for operators and dispatchers have not budged from 2016, and they fall short of what employees at municipal police services make.