Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

To better police reserves

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Crime rates on reserves are many times higher than that in urban centres across Canada and in Manitoba. The provincial and federal governments finance policing in these communities, with the intent to deliver a level of service equivalent to non-First Nation centres. That's a problem.

The calculus does not take into account the differing levels of violence. The First Nation community of Northlands Denesuline has had no on-site police presence for long periods of time. RCMP from the Thompson detachment fly in for a scheduled patrol or in emergencies. Yet, the crime rate far exceeds that of, say, St. Claude, served by nearby Treherne's RCMP detachment. All three communities have roughly the same population. Similar comparisons could be made between Tadoule Lake (also served by Thompson) and La Riviere, covered by RCMP out of nearby Manitou.

Various federal-provincial agreements fund police coverage by RCMP of rural and isolated communities. Southern centres are closer together, which makes coverage from police hubs easier. The reserves, particularly in isolated northern areas, have far less access to police service because of their remoteness -- RCMP often must fly in for emergencies.

There has been dispute over how to improve policing on reserves. Manitoba insists the federal government must hike its funding share and Ottawa has implied the province has dragged its feet on getting enough constables on the ground.

Policing on reserves in Canada is a patchwork: RCMP detachments give various service by scheduled patrols, in concert with special constables (First Nations recruits who are full RCMP members, but assigned to reserves) or band constables, who are federally trained but do not carry firearms. Ottawa has not offered band-constable training for two years in Manitoba.

Northlands lost its two band constables last June, and the dearth of police presence is a real problem in a community where violence is frequent, the chief says. Both Northlands and Tadoule Lake want a permanent police officer.

The province says Ottawa for many years has frozen its funding through its First Nations Policing Program, which cost-shares policing by special constables and First Nations police forces. It would be the program to fund the proposal by the northern chiefs group Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which wants First-Nations-operated, permanent police on reserves.

Ottawa's recent commitment of $612 million for the FNPP over five years was welcomed because of its multi-year, predictable funding. But the provinces have yet to hear how much each will get, and for what purpose. The annual funding is a minimal increase over this year's budget and so real expansion of service is unlikely.

It won't answer the call for aboriginal police departments in Manitoba, such as the Dakota Ojibwa Police Service, which covers five southern communities. Trained, certified, aboriginal officers in detachments that are responsive to and knowledgeable about the reserves are preferable, a point that has been made for years and in reviews of crime, enforcement and social conditions on reserves.

Manitoba and Ottawa have to open negotiations with chiefs and councils on how best to ensure that when crime happens, police response is not hours or days away.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2013 A6

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