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The Globe and Mail

RCMP slims Ottawa bureaucracy in bid to shift focus back to policing

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson appears at Commons national security committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 31, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is moving major policing operations out of the force's Ottawa division in a plan to slim down headquarters as he attempts to shift the focus off a sexual-harassment scandal and onto crime-fighting activities.

The decision to place a large number of federal investigations under the command of the RCMP's Ontario and Quebec divisions is a major operational shift for the national police force. The goal is to create bigger investigative groups in the country's major urban areas, while reducing the number of investigations that are handled in the national capital region.

The force is still stinging from findings late last year that the number of staff at head office in Ottawa doubled over the past decade as the force scrambled to adapt after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Commissioner Paulson has also been busy with systemic issues that have accumulated over the years, namely allegations of widespread sexual harassment against female officers.

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An RCMP official explained that the changes are still being finalized, and that it is too early to say how many officers will be relocated in the effort to improve the co-ordination among investigators. Some officers will be expected to move out of Ottawa, while most of those who remain will start reporting to superiors in London, Ont., or Montreal.

"The nature of organized crime being what it is, there is very significant and regular overlap [between investigations in the national capital region] with investigations being conducted by the [Ontario and Quebec] divisions," the RCMP official said.

In charge of the RCMP since last November, Commissioner Paulson is clearly trying to eliminate bureaucracy in the force, calling on officers to focus on policing operations such as catching criminals and ensuring safer streets.

In an internal bulletin obtained by The Globe and Mail, RCMP assistant commissioners Fran├žois Bidal and James Malizia said the restructuring is part of a strategy of "moving operations out of HQ and into divisions."

In a recent memo, Commissioner Paulson told members of his force "much of the news coverage over the past six months has focused on the negative, particularly the very serious allegations of sexual harassment that have come out."

He added that he wants to focus on the future of the RCMP, urging his staff to look at ways to "do things differently, focus on operations and contribute to the safety and security of those who pay our salaries, the men and women of Canada."

He pointed out that the RCMP has been asked to find savings of $195-million as part of the federal government's deficit-reduction plans, and that some cost-saving reforms are under way.

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However, RCMP officials said the upcoming changes to the divisional responsibilities in the RCMP in Ontario and Quebec are not part of the deficit-reduction strategy, but rather a bid for efficiency.

As it stands, the RCMP's A Division in Ottawa deals with criminal investigations in several areas: drug importation and trafficking, smuggling, government fraud, white-collar crime, high-tech crime, money laundering, war crimes, immigration and passport fraud, organized crime and national security threats.

After the restructuring, the A Division will be responsible only for the conduct of key sensitive investigations (dealing with matters such as political corruption), priority international investigations and protecting VIPs such as ministers and ambassadors.

The rest of the work will be transferred to O and C divisions in Ontario and Quebec respectively.

In his internal memo, Commissioner Paulson said that the RCMP's "command structure" is also being simplified. In particular, he is abandoning a reform put in place by his civilian predecessor, William Elliott, who divided the country into East and West regions, with a deputy commander in charge of each.

"Regions as we know them today will disappear," Commissioner Paulson said. "All deputy commissioners, their equivalents and commanding officers will report directly to me."

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The RCMP's A Division is already relatively small, with only 436 employees, in comparison to 1,600 in the O Division and 1,200 in the C Division.

However, the RCMP will still have thousands of officials in Ottawa, largely in administrative roles, management and overseeing the force's entire operations. Figures released under access to information legislation late last year showed 4,569 people were working at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, more than double the 2,242 people posted there in 2000.

The RCMP can't fit all Ottawa personnel into its new headquarters, bought in 2006, which can accommodate 3,800 people. The Mounties are now spread out over two campuses in Ottawa.

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