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February eyed for new permanent RCMP detachment commander

Two recruits starting on the Sunshine Coast
Acting Detachment Commander Sgt. Jennifer Prunty and Cpl. Philip Atoui outside the Sechelt RCMP building on Dec. 15.

After more than a year without a permanent detachment commander, the Sunshine Coast RCMP could have a replacement by the end of February.

Acting Detachment Commander Sgt. Jennifer Prunty told Coast Reporter the Lower Mainland District’s “extensive” hiring process is currently at the community consultation stage. 

The estimated date for when that role will be filled is “sometime towards the end of February,” said Prunty in an in-person interview on Thursday.

In July, she estimated it would take until December to complete recruitment and relocation. Prunty plans to remain with the detachment after a permanent replacement is hired. 

“There is an active process in place for the new detachment commander and what we’re looking for is some stability, and that will be addressed once that position is named,” she said.

“We recognize there has been a period of time without a permanent commander in place.”

The position has been filled temporarily by three sergeants since the departure of Staff Sgt. Poppy Hallam – the first woman to fill that role on the Sunshine Coast and who started in 2018.

During her tenure, Sgt. Hallam identified staffing as a “top organizational challenge” for the department, with the cost of living as a chronic barrier. The Sunshine Coast Regional District requested a cost of living subsidy for housing and ferry costs from the federal government, and requested more staff. 

In the spring of 2021 the RCMP also requested one regular member for that year and a civilian position and police officer in 2023 for the District of Sechelt. 

Prunty told Coast Reporter she could not disclose how many officers are working at the detachment currently, and did not indicate whether detachment is dealing with a shortage.

“We are always looking at that in terms of how we can enhance our service delivery, but any further talks on that will be with the province and municipalities,” she said, adding, “We’re always happy to have more people, definitely. And it can always enhance the service delivery.”

There has been “positive” movement on the hiring file, she said. One front-line constable started last month and another recruit is slated to join the detachment next week – both are new Depot Division recruits starting their careers on the Coast. 

Caseloads per member for Sunshine Coast officers are nearing average for “E” division districts, said Prunty in July. 

According to the District of Sechelt, the district funds 11 RCMP and four support staff, and 24 staff are funded by the province. That includes two dedicated staff members for shíshálh Nation.

Tea with a Mountie 

“Tea with a Mountie” – a new initiative to make RCMP officers more accessible in the community, is intended to be a recurring event, according to organizer Cpl. Philip Atoui. 

Atoui said the principle guiding the initiative is a simple one: “Just connect and build that bridge between the community and have them feel comfortable to talk to us. Because we’re human just like everybody else.” The RCMP is aiming to host the event every two weeks and also hopes to engage youth with this or similar initiatives. 

The inaugural session, which took place at the Daily Roast cafe in Sechelt was “heartwarming,” said Atoui. About 10 people attended, including Sechelt Mayor John Henderson, and five officers were present for the roughly one-hour event. 

“It was nice to see right off the bat the Mayor of Sechelt attending in support of the idea,” Atoui said.

Newly-elected mayor Henderson has made public safety a key agenda item – with work under way to strike a community safety task force, which he said would focus on protecting residents and businesses “in what seems to be an increasingly lawless environment.”

Prunty described the initiative as “an enhancement on our foot beat patrols,” since foot patrols are “quite valuable” for the business community.

The RCMP has exhausted funding that was allocated for increased foot patrols in the summer and patrols are now incorporated into regular shifts. “It’s not as active as in the summer, but it still exists,” said Prunty. 

The Sechelt Downtown Business Association has requested a boost in patrol funding in the 2023 preliminary budget for the District of Sechelt. 

– With files from Keili Bartlett and Connie Jordison