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No RCMP in Burgeo and beyond

Steven Hiscock – submitted

BURGEO – Counc. Steven Hiscock has nothing but praise for Stephenville RCMP, but says Burgeo needs its own detachment back. The town has been without its own RCMP officers since October.

“It’s not too bad because the Stephenville detachment comes out on random (patrols),” says Hiscock, who figures he’s seen an RCMP cruiser fairly regularly, and almost always on Fridays too.

He doesn’t think any increase in impaired driving or speeding is related to the lack of police presence either.

“There was an increase in that before they even left,” admits Hiscock. “You know how it is. After you’ve got one cop here for six years and another for three years in a small community with very little crime, it gets relaxed.”

Hiscock, who is the on air reporter for Burgeo Broadcasting, conducted an interview around July with Assistant Commissioner Ches Parsons who is the Commanding Officer of the RCMP.

“His philosophy is that officers are only supposed to stay in a small community for two years and one officer has been here for six,” said Hiscock.

In a letter dated Aug. 12 addressed to Mayor George Reid, Parsons promised that the RCMP has no plans to close or downsize the Burgeo detachment permanently. The primary problem with finding officers to station at the Burgeo detachment can be attributed to the ongoing global pandemic.

“RCMP NL continues to police the province to fulfil its mandate to protect public safety, enforce the law, and ensure the delivery of priority policing services in Newfoundland and Labrador,” stated Media Relations Officer Cpl. Jolene Garland via e-mail.

“The unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the number of newly trained RCMP officers coming out of the RCMP Training Centre (depot) in Regina, which is impacting resources across Canada. The RCMP Training Centre was closed for a period of time to protect the health and wellness of employees and applicants, which slowed staffing processes. This was a temporary measure and training has resumed at a lower capacity, although this could, of course, change depending on the spread of COVID-19.”

Responding to inquiries, Garland also said that Burgeo is not the only RCMP detachment currently unstaffed.

“Other Detachments currently unstaffed and receiving coverage from neighbouring Detachments include Flower’s Cove and Grand Bank (note that Grand Bank has one police officer staffed in the community with coverage from Marystown when the officer is off shift).”

Garland was unable to determine exactly when these detachments might have new officers assigned.

“While we cannot commit to a specific time line, plans are in motion to staff the positions in Burgeo as soon as possible. In the interim, policing services will be provided by the Bay St. George Detachment. This is a normal process in smaller detachment areas both in Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout the country during times when officers have to leave the area for training, vacation, or any other reason. Crime rates in Burgeo remain low and police not only respond to calls for service in the area but make proactive patrols on a routine basis to ensure the delivery of policing services to the community.”

Hiscock notes that Parsons was also unable to provide a definitive time line.

“He said it could be as late as April. Now he said he’s hoping it’s not going to be that long,” said Hiscock.

And while Stephenville might be covering the region sufficiently, the worry is that they will not be able to continue that once the winter sets in.

“Our Burgeo road is closed very often during the winter. It could be closed for the week. It all depends, right? Then the only way to get into Burgeo is by helicopter or by boat, and that depends on the weather also,” noted Hiscock.

The Burgeo Volunteer Fire Department is there to help with emergencies in the interim, and that does ease the concern somewhat.

“I think that Burgeo has got one of the better fire departments than most small communities,” offered Hiscock.

But the Burgeo RCMP’s reach extends well beyond that one community too.

“They police Ramea, Grey River, Francois,” observed Hiscock. “Even though they’re a boat ride away.”

Hiscock says Parsons has promised that in the event that Stephenville cannot respond then Corner Brook or Deer Lake would.

“He said that he’s making sure that if you guys need police services, you guys will have it,” said Hiscock.

Hiscock says the town has received reassurances from Parsons, MP Gudie Hutchings (Long Range Mountains) and MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) about the police services, but the fact remains that, “The community would really like for the force to be here as it was.”

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