“You might not hear about it, but I can tell you that in the last two-and-a-half to three weeks, three or four of our officers have been assaulted on the job. One was attacked by a pit bull.”
Although they are not faint of heart, Kentville police officers are frustrated. Their numbers could be cut this fall and they feel attacked.
“There’ll be two losses. That’s not even a maybe,” said Police Association of Nova Scotia representative Kevin Pick of proposed cuts to the Kentville force.
The town’s police commission met to hear about council’s decision to reduce the core complement by one and Pick says that will result in the loss of a further officer paid for by the province.
Kentville cut back on police numbers by one a year ago, resulting in the loss of the community policing position.
According to Pick, 1991 was the last time Kentville cut front line officers in the 125-year-old department. He said the overtime costs that accrued were so significant that two positions were restaffed.
“We had many meetings last year,” he said, “and members of town council and the CAO don’t know policing.”
Pick said losing one officer in 2013 was a blow to morale, but now he believes that public safety could be a risk.
“In seven years, I haven’t seen morale this low,” said Pick, “and this is after the events in Moncton and the stabbings here last week.”
Pick said Kentville officers are some of the lowest paid in the province and they have no pension provisions. He is concerned that when loitering and other issues were brought to council, they did not see a need to consult the general public about policing cuts.
“This is in a town with $1.3 million in reserves,” Pick said.
Pick says businesses have moved to the community because of the fast response time a local police force offers.
“We stand to lose our best illegal drug fighter,” Pick said. “I hope the public gets behind us or town council could maybe walk a mile in my shoes.”
Two officers, not one
Kentville’s police commission heard one cut to the core staffing complement will result in a second cut to the integrated street crime unit due to a 2007 agreement with the province.
Chief administrative officer Mark Phillips said council believes that 14 officers can police a town of 6,094 residents, prompting the unanimous decision June 24. He also reiterated council’s right to make the cut.
Phillips said the move would not take place until Sept. 30.
Police Chief Mark Mander termed the cuts “ill advised” and requested council to reconsider its stance.
“Further cuts would produce concerns that I am obligated to point out,” Mander said. He added that there had been no commission or public input.
“This is not a large service,” he said, “so the loss of even one officer has an impact and for the social fabric of the community this is a significantly historic decision.”
The commission decided to follow Phillips’ suggestion and proceed with the cuts, while asking the provincial justice department if the town would still be compliant in terms of the police act.
Deputy Mayor Mark Pearl said he was proud of the department’s response time when the stabbings occurred.
“That’s not the discussion, it’s costs Canada wide up that are up for discussion. The current model is not sustainable. The commission needs to understand the tolerance level of taxpayers. We don’t want to lose any services or policemen, but this is about what the taxpayers can bear.”
Pearl recommended the commission advocate with the province for the retention of the second officer.
Coun. Nola Folker-Hill, who chairs the commission, asked Phillips if there is any onus on commission to involve the public in the discussions around cuts.
Phillips said public involvement is always good governance, but he did not think it was a requirement.