Facing a staffing crunch, Canada's national police force is "cannibalizing" itself – a state of affairs that can only be corrected by dividing the Mounties up into their federal and local policing halves, according to a new think-tank report.
A Sept. 7 essay published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute says the RCMP's federally directed detectives who focus on top-tier criminals such as terrorists, mobsters and drug smugglers are becoming less important within the force than the RCMP officers who are loaned out for local law-enforcement duties to hundreds of communities that lack their own police services.
Tensions between the federal-policing and contract-policing wings have existed for decades. Yet complex crime, thinning police ranks and subpar Mountie salaries are making the situation worse, according to Christian Leuprecht, a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
The findings of Mr. Leuprecht, a long-time police watcher, appear among several recommendations in the paper, titled "Fixing the Governance, Leadership, and Structure of the RCMP."
While the ranks of the contract-policing RCMP have been slowly growing, the numbers of federal-detective Mounties have dwindled compared with a decade ago. Figures recently obtained under Access to Information laws by The Globe and Mail show that more than 2 1/2 times as many Mounties are allocated for contract-policing positions (13,600) than federal-policing positions (4,600).
Mr. Leuprecht's paper argues this is because the federal government has signed hundreds of contracts to provide fixed numbers of RCMP officers to more local levels of government, while staffing levels for federal policing are not fixed.
The contract-policing communities range from tiny Arctic outposts to emerging metropolises in B.C.'s Lower Mainland such as Surrey, population 500,000, which recently commissioned more than 100 extra Mounties to keep up with its 10-per-cent growth rate. Demographics like that put the RCMP in a bind when recruitment and retention run low – to live up to its deals with other levels of government, it may skimp on Ottawa's investigative priorities, including pursuit of terrorists, organized criminals, hackers, money launderers and smugglers of illicit opioids such as fentanyl.
"The organization's preoccupation with contract policing has been cannibalizing federal policing," Mr. Leuprecht's paper says. "The RCMP must meet its contract obligations but does not have enough members to do so." He says: "This unwieldy Hydra is best tamed by completely splitting [the RCMP] into discrete law enforcement agencies with different entry points, training, education, promotion and compensation."
However, RCMP boosters argue that the police force's breadth gives it a size and cohesiveness that is the envy of other forces. "The more informed I was, the more I saw that the roles of contract and federal policing were complementary," William Elliott, a former commissioner of the RCMP, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Mr. Leuprecht disagrees. "This is a zero-sum game. There are only so many resources to go around. There's substantial pressure to make sure the organization makes good on its contract-policing commitments," he said in an interview. "When you're understaffed, this is ultimately where the resources are going to pull."
Mr. Leuprecht proposes that both sides of a severed organization could still be RCMP officers as long as sufficient rules prevent the kind of resource raiding that now happens.
The Mounties are among the worst-paid police forces in Canada, and locked into a model that pays officers by rank and years of experience.
Over the past year and a half, intensive RCMP investigations against targets such as the SNC Lavalin corporation, Senator Mike Duffy, Quebec-based mobsters, as well as husband-and-wife terrorism suspects in B.C. have failed in court. In rulings acquitting the accused in each case, judges highlighted RCMP shortcomings.
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute report also lends its voice to a growing chorus of calls for the RCMP to submit to greater civilian controls and open itself up to investigative talent from outside the area of policing.