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Sask. promising RCMP money if they can recruit officers

An RCMP insignia hangs from a podium at Depot Division in Regina, Saskatchewan on Thursday April 19, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell) An RCMP insignia hangs from a podium at Depot Division in Regina, Saskatchewan on Thursday April 19, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell)
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Saskatchewan and the RCMP have inked a deal that would see the province fund hundreds more officers if Mounties can recruit to fill those positions.

The new commitment will be a game-changer, said Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the commanding officer for Saskatchewan's RCMP.

The force has long been understaffed and at the beginning of this year, Saskatchewan's officers-per-capita ratio was at its lowest point in decades.

"We were in this circle of continuous chasing our tail trying to figure out funding or bodies," Blackmore said.

RCMP were caught in a loop -- Mounties could not fill positions without promised funding, but the province couldn't commit dollars without having officers on the ground.

"We were kind of stuck in this grey area," said Public Safety Minister Paul Merriman.

Merriman said Saskatchewan's money is now on the table to fund a full complement of 1,174 officers. There are around 250 positions looking to be filled, Merriman said.

Issues with RCMP recruitment and staffing have long been reported across the country with many regions seeing significant vacancy rates.

Merriman said the new deal ensures Saskatchewan is "the first up of the provinces to be able to have our dollars on the table so the RCMP can … recruit people from across the country or retain a bunch of the cadets that are coming out of depot."

Around $7.7 million has been earmarked for 50 officers in the first year. It is to increase as officers start working in the province.

Mounties in Saskatchewan are funded through the Provincial Police Service Agreement which sees the province pay about 70 per cent of costs and the federal government cover the remainder.

The new money promised for extra officers is in addition to $228 million tapped for Saskatchewan RCMP in last month's provincial budget. Additionally, the budget included $21.6 million for the RCMP's First Nations policing program.

Another $7 million was pegged to start a new marshals service. The new police service, set to be operational with 70 officers in 2026, is expected to cost around $20 million per year.

Merriman said a full complement of Mounties and the marshals service are necessary because "the citizens of Saskatchewan have asked this government to make sure that the communities are safe."

The marshals service has been criticized for being redundant and expensive by the National Police Federation, the union representing RCMP officers.

However, Morgan Buckingham, the director of the Prairie region at the federation, said this new funding commitment with RCMP is an important step for safety and a morale boost for officers currently stationed in Saskatchewan.

"Our members will be properly resourced, which will translate to safer communities for Saskatchewan," he said.

Two coroner's inquests into a deadly mass stabbing in Saskatchewan were held this year and many of their recommendations were directed at RCMP staffing levels and training. The inquests specifically recommended fully staffing specialized RCMP units and increasing resources to track people involved with drug trafficking.

 Eleven people were killed and 17 others injured during the attack on the James Smith Cree and nearby village of Weldon in 2022.

Buckingham said the inquests showed the hard work of Mounties. But he said it also demonstrated how officers have been dealing with resource challenges in Saskatchewan for a long time.

"For them to see a light at the end of the tunnel is massive," he said.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

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