Policing review alarms SW Sask.

RCMP South District commander Kevin Kunetzki speaks during the meeting. | Karen Briere photo

‘Super-hub’ term sparks fears regional RCMP services will be consolidated, but senior officer attempts to put 
minds at ease

MAPLE CREEK, Sask. — Residents of southwestern Saskatchewan aren’t buying RCMP claims that detachments won’t close and policing service won’t be diminished after a review is complete.

Many of the 415 people attending a public meeting in Maple Creek Jan. 15 said they weren’t reassured by comments from South District officer superintendent Kevin Kunetzki that police service could remain the same or be enhanced once consultants MNP compile information.

“I won’t tolerate that in any way shape or form,” Kunetzki said of closures. “My preference would be to enhance services.”

But residents like Susan Burton said they’ve been burned before.

“We’ve been centralized to the nuts,” she said, referring to the loss of offices like SaskPower and SaskEnergy, as well as health care.

“Now we have bean counters that are going to tell us how to police.”

Burton told Kunetzki and MNP representatives that residents were going to draw the line at giving up protection and safety.

Although Kunetzki insists that no decisions have been made and no specific model has been proposed, Maple Creek Mayor Michelle McKenzie said that doesn’t appear likely given the meeting notice that circulated beforehand. It clearly proposed a super-hub model that would base policing out of Swift Current for that city’s rural detachment, Maple Creek, Shaunavon, Leader, Morse, Gravelbourg and Ponteix.

Kunetzki said he is responsible.

“My use of the term super-hub … may have caused some anxiety,” he told the crowd.

A public meeting about potential changes to rural policing in southwestern Saskatchewan attracted quite a crowd last week as more than 400 people packed the Maple Creek Armouries. | Karen Briere photo

He is looking for a deployment model that is more flexible and gives communities better service. Pooling resources, or using them differently, could provide that, he said.

He said the exercise is not driven by a cost-cutting directive, nor is it tied to the unionization of RCMP officers.

And, he said he believes some RCMP policies, such as moving officers every few years or requiring them to live within 40 kilometres of where they are posted, has to change so that those who want to stay where they are can do so.

He repeatedly said that taking officers out of communities is not the better model he is looking for out of this review.

Tina Cresswell, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, said the area requires “continued strong resident service,” pointing out that 330,000 people visit the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park every year.

“Rural crime is up in our area and farmers and ranchers are already complaining about lack of response,” she said. “It is ironic that this is happening now when for the first time in several years the Maple Creek detachment is finally up to full force.”

The region is also home to a healing lodge with 60 inmates, and Cresswell said response time is crucial.

Kunetzki said the area still would have the same number of officers, but perhaps a new model could provide additional service in the summer, for example.

Others suggested the RCMP consider using more volunteers, establishing an auxiliary program and even creating a search and rescue training camp in the area, which was once the national headquarters for the police force.

Doug Haroldson, who volunteers with victim services, said officers have to be as close as possible.

“What if you have a farm accident in the Golden Prairie or Fox Valley area” or a car accident by Consul, he said. Those situations already require long drives to respond and longer would not be better.

He added it’s important for young people in the communities to see RCMP officers, too.

“It’s not an easy time to be a kid,” Haroldson said.

Several retired and current nurses said they are seeing an increase in violent crime and drug overdoses and need to be able to rely on the RCMP.

Tom Flanagan told Kunetzki and the MNP representatives that residents were concerned because of previous consolidation efforts with their local co-op, the school and the hospital.

“You have to build the trust of the people in this room or you won’t be successful,” he advised.

The MNP report is expected within six months. Kunetzki wouldn’t commit to making it public, saying it was designed to be a business analysis, but he did say the public would see the outcomes.

Chad Lins from MNP’s public safety practice said the firm would compile the input from all the public meetings.

“Our direction is clear,” he said. “Anything we come up with has to be additive” to current service.

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