The Police Review Committee proposing policing options for Hartland and the District of Carleton North believes they have a solid plan in place. However, it will need approval and a funding commitment from the New Brunswick government to make the project a reality.
The Carleton Police Review Committee, with representatives from both Carleton North and Hartland, outlined its plans at a pair of open houses last week.
During public meetings at Weldon Matthews Theatre at Carleton North High School on Thursday, Nov. 8, and the Hartland Community School on Friday, Nov. 9, the committee offered details surrounding plans to create a municipal force to replace the West District RCMP.
An estimated 50 to 75 residents attended in Carleton North, while only a couple of dozen residents took part in the Hartland event. While the meetings and survey indicate residents want improved police coverage and visibility, they also fear the impact of the proposed new force on their tax bills.
“People are concerned about costs, but the meetings were generally positive,” said Hartland Mayor Tracey DeMerchant.
Not everyone attending the open houses left with a positive take on the committee’s plans.
Mother and son Betty and Kevin Brown attended the Carleton North meeting. They left early, saying the committee failed to provide a transparent budget or plan.
“I’m so frustrated,” said Betty, noting most residents know little about what’s happening, nor will they have a vote on what happens.
“Most people I’ve talked to have no idea about it,” he said. “And we have no say if we change. We’re not happy.”
Retired RCMP District Commander Staff Sgt. John de Winter, who agreed to chair the police committee, took the stage with fellow committee members, former police officer Jason Hickey, Carleton North Mayor Andrew Harvey and Hartland Deputy Mayor Mike Walton. Other committee members, Hartland Mayor Tracey DeMerchant, Carleton North Coun. Scott Oakes, Hartland CAO Rob Webber and Carleton North ClerkAmy McIntosh also attended the open houses.
The meetings began with de Winter offering several slides, including statistics showing crimes against persons trending upward and crimes against property jumping significantly.
The PowerPoint presentation outlined the numerous policing shortfalls currently in the two communities, the results of resident surveys, the proposed municipal force model, and the timeline to establish that force.
To develop its policing plan, de Winter said the committee talked to the RCMP. retired RCMP officers from the community and several municipal forces across the province.
Those conversations and the public survey identified several areas of concern with current police coverage, including lack of detachments and access within either community, lack of police patrols, lack of community engagement and poor response time.
The committee unveiled the service model for a force it believes would address most of those concerns. De Winter explained the proposed municipal force would include a chief, deputy chief, four platoons featuring four officers each, a court officer, a receptionist, four auxiliary police officers, two casual police officers and community resources.
The plan also calls for an IEU (Integrated Enforcement Officer) as part of a shared policing operation with other New Brunswick forces and the RCMP.
While the committee didn’t offer a detailed budget, it said the municipal force can operate for just over $3 million annually, similar to what the communities now pay for the RCMP.
While the estimate of an annual budget of just over $3 million to cover 2,010 sq km and 13,500 residents of Carleton North and Hartland is less than the $3.3 million Woodstock Police Force budget to cover 5,500 and 15 sq km, Harvey cited forces which do an excellent job for under $3 million annually.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” said Harvey, citing the BNPP Regional Police Force, which serves Beresford, Nigadoo, Petit-Rocher and Pointe-Verte in northern New Brunswick as an example of the type of force they are attempting to create.
He said the regional force covers a region similar to central and northern Carleton, delivering excellent results.
Harvey, de Winter and other committee members acknowledged the reality of a municipal force lies in the hands of Public Safety Minister Kris Austin and the provincial government. In addition to needing the minister to approve their proposed plan, the province must fund most, if not all, of the infrastructure and transition costs.
The plan submitted to the province includes retrofitting the former Florenceville-Bristol town hall into the central police station. It also includes a substation in the former RCMP office in Hartland.
De Winter said the province had already given the committee permission to design and determine cost estimates to restructure the old town hall.
The committee chair said the province must also agree to pay for needed police equipment, including cars, equipment and furniture.
“Without provincial support, it won’t fly,” he said.
DeWinter expressed confidence the new police force could quickly fill positions, noting he and Hickey had already received several inquiries from officers in civilian and military police forces seeking a chance to return to New Brunswick.
De Winter said he and committee members continue to keep the RCMP updated on its plans, adding the federal force is presenting options for improved coverage.
Harvey said the RCMP clarified that the communities would pay extra for any improvements.
“If the RCMP came back to this committee with a better option, we’d accept it,” de Winter said.
Hartland Coun. Jason Smith, who attended both open houses, said any policing decision must consider the long term.
“The RCMP stepped up their game,” he said, “but will it be sustained.”
Betty Brown believes the best and safest option is a return to an RCMP force, resembling what the community used to enjoy when RCMP officers and their families lived and volunteered in the community.
“Give us back what we had,” she said.
Kevin Brown expressed doubt the community would see improvement from a municipal force.
While he acknowledges the RCMP faced significant cutbacks in recent years, Kevin believes they do reasonably well dealing with the high crime levels.
He said the area’s meth problem and related theft drive the crime rate, adding the number of cases going through Woodstock provincial court indicates the biggest problem is not policing but the legal system.
“The government of New Brunswick basically walked away from mental health and addiction,” Kevin said.
During the open houses, Harvey outlined the committee’s 16 steps required to submit its plans, plus its tight timeline.
He said he expects the province to respond by Dec. 1. Both councils will debate and vote on the final plan if approved.
Harvey said the communities must provide the RCMP with a year’s notice before replacing them, meaning the new force would begin providing service on Jan. 1, 2025.
He expressed confidence the town could deliver the police stations and equipment and fully staff the new force within the 12-month window.
Kevin Brown has his doubts that it’s possible.
“How many times have you seen the government stay on budget and schedule?” he asked.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun