Through the Looking Glass

The title of this blog reflects the feeling that one has when one delves into any government report, an apt metaphorical expression to describe when looking into that strange side, that strange parallel world which is the National RCMP. 

Only the policy nerds seem to flourish in this world, fed and sustained by a never-ending stream of political social narratives; while those looking in from the outside wonder what it all means, or whether it means anything at all.  For those that are paying attention (admittedly, that may not be many) the latest government aphorism, is a rehearsed and vetted document outlining the future for the RCMP.  It will both confound and mystify the average reader, but in equal measure it will please their political masters.  

This is a reference to the newly released benignly named: Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2020-2021 Departmental Plan.

This document is not an exception to the usual government production, as it should come with a warning label, a warning that its contents are chock full of numbing bureaucratize. The reader sometimes needs a skill set similar to Alan Turing  to break the code of government speak and terminology. It is recommended that it should only be read in small doses.  

It is also clearly designed to be somewhat obtuse, as specifics are often an anathema to any government agency. What we do get is 35 pages of clouded statements on the future intentions of the RCMP as outlined by its leadership. It includes for the novice reader, an appendix of “definitions”— in case you are wondering what is  “gender-based analysis +”. 

As one begins to read, it should be noted that this is the first time that the RCMP has an assigned Management Advisory Board in its midst, now part of the influential upper management. You may remember that Brenda Lucki in announcing this Board stated that the RCMP “thrives on diversity of knowledge and ideas” (actually the RCMP has been called out many times for being a closed system so this seems a little precious) and was looking to the Board to help build a “modern, effective, healthy and inclusive organization”. (Keep the word inclusive in mind, as it will re-surface). 

In reading this document one does get a sense of the political goals having become more intertwined with the policing goals, but there is nothing attributed to the input of this new Board otherwise.

It is also the first time the RCMP is reporting under the banner of the illustrious Bill Blair, who has gone through the “transition”, from the tough former cop to the  wholly pliable 100% Liberal politico. 

The report is broken up into its four respective groups: Federal Policing, National Police Services, Contract and Indigenous Policing, and Internal Services. It is quickly evident by the majority of the narrative that the majority of the emphasis in this particular document is under the Federal Policing banner. 

The officers in this Federal group are mandated with the ominous sounding and numerous portfolios of: terrorism, foreign interference, money laundering, organized crime, proceeds of crime, border integrity, transnational serious and organized crime, cyber-enabled criminal activities, and foreign influenced cyber crime. Out of this litany, the ultimate priorities are noted as being; national security, transnational crime, and cybercrime. Some may argue that these particular priorities are some of the already very weak areas in terms of operational performance.  Few of those that work there would argue with the fact that improvement is needed.  

The report then goes on to examine the  “Departmental results” –those of the past, alongside the new and projected targets. An examination of this area, is a little more specific and therefore a little more telling. 

They list the “Percentage of National Security Serious and Organized Crime investigations” and “Financial Crime investigations” that have been “opened and cleared” within the fiscal year(s). In Financial Crime, their future target is 30.5% of the files. Keep in mind “cleared” is open to interpretation. 

In 2016 the actual results were 7%, in 2017- 19% and in 2018 -0%. 

Thats right, 0% of files in 2018 and 2019 were opened and cleared in that year under the banner of Financial Crime. 

In the area of National Security there future goal is 11.5% opened and cleared files. In 2016 they achieved 6%, 2017-8% and last year 2019-10%.  You get the picture. 

The budget for these high level investigations on the Federal side is estimated at $870,180,294. However, over the projected next three years into 2022-2023, the monies actually drop to $862,409,515. So despite the emphasis at the beginning of their report on anticipated greater focus on cyber crime investigations and transnational serious and organized crime, no more money is currently planned nor are they anticipating any increases.    

The writers concede there are some “risks” in reaching these projected targets. They explain that “without new funding”, they “will be unable to deliver on its already narrowed and focused scope” and they will also need to “re-direct” resources to the Federal side.

Further down the list of importance comes Contract and Indigenous Policing.  Again, one needs to decipher the phraseology. In this portion of the document there are multiple references to such things as “developing relationships”, “guiding investigations”, and “supporting other agencies”.  What they mean is that in the future, it will continue to be hard to measure any impacts when they are working in an assistance capacity. It is difficult to measure success or failure, or attribute positive or negative results when one points to others. If there is a failure they will point at the others, but at themselves when it is a success.

Under the roof of Contract Policing also comes “developing” a Gender Based Violence program; a Sexual Assault Review team to “guide” others;  and to “support” other agencies dealing with Cannabis and Cannabis related enforcement issues. Contract operational policing, of which most of the readers of this blog belong, garners four lines of narrative while talking about something called “Gender Based Analysis Plus”.  There is little or no reference to day to day operational policing on the contract level. 

There is a portion of greater specifics, in the Departmental result indicator list for Contract policing, where they outline the “weighted clearance rate” across contract policing jurisdictions.

Their target is 64.5 % by March 31, 2021.

So what did they achieve in 2016–37.80%; in 2017–36.91 % and in 2018–36.6%. So in the next several months the RCMP is planning to almost double their current clearance rate. To say that is a stretch would be an understatement and one has to wonder who came up with a target number so out of reach.

What do they see as the key risks in contract policing? There is no mention of their largest detachment possibly becoming a separate municipal department. The single risk they speak about is the “lack of an effective dispute resolution process”. At least that is true, when you open up to the unionized environment, the current lack of any workable process is exposed. Things such as “binding arbitration” have never been dealt with before. Why are they worried about this risk?  Because it poses “significant financial liability”. 

Now in case you think the Ottawa types have let you down and they are not moved by the salary issues, or the bottom of the pit morale issues. You would be mistaken, because they announced—wait for it— “Vision 150”.  This is a five year plan built upon the “Four Pillars” of : “Our people”, “Our Culture”, “Our Stewardship” and “Our Policing Services”.  

Under “Our people” you will find the usual promises and problems  of recruitment, mental health, diversity and harassment. Under “Our Culture” there will be “ethical standards modeled and enforced” and they will be “fostering diversity”. 

All of you must be breathing a collective sigh of relief.  

As a carrot after the proverbial stick they did mention that they are going to be expending time on developing “apps” to allow an officer to access RCMP systems from anywhere— they will be increasing their “mobile presence”. The government which gave us the Phoenix pay system is heading down the road to greater App development.

So what is the projected budget for all of this? What is the overall cost of the Mounties? 

In 2019-2020 the forecast results are $6,175,703,214. 

The projected expenses for 2020-2021 are: $5,561,803,617. A drop of $613 million. 

Are they not expecting a pay raise for 2020-2021? To be fair though, in the footnotes they do allow for “technical adjustments later in the fiscal year”. 

All of this leaves me with a couple of impressions. The first is that the latest buzz word in Ottawa is “perimeter less”. Meaning no barriers or boundaries between the various departments one assumes. But this term bounces around throughout the pages of this document. As a career tip, most Mounties should try and include this term in any written administrative correspondence for the next year or so.  

But aside from the latest government speak, the more over-riding impression in this document is its disconnectedness. The problems of the Surrey or Burnaby member is not the problem of Federal Policing. This lack of relevance to the core mandate is striking. And that core mandate seems to be changing, slowly but inexorably.  Federal policing is clearly the popular flavour in those Ottawa committee meetings, at least in terms of projected operational priorities. 

However, at the same time, the structure for change appears deeply flawed.

Surrey detachment seems to be a microcosm of the larger problems. As this blogger has watched the progression of debate in Surrey, one can not help but be dumbfounded that the argument for keeping the Mounties centres around a belief that the opposition just want a change in personnel.

It is not a question of the personnel. It is the structure. The pyramid there is upside down and it needs to be dynamically and unapologetically flattened. Too many supervisors, too much management, too many specialized members; not enough officers doing core policing. It is that simple. But this simply defined problem is not an easily solved problem as it runs head-on into the current rank and promotion structure. 

The  broader question for Canada may be whether or not the Mounties on a national basis need to be re-structured.

The jack of all trades, master of none attitude of management is central to this debate. They seem to be still harbouring the illusion that all members are interchangeable—pluck them from general duty, give them a couple of courses at that Institute of higher learning in Chilliwack or Regina and now they are experts in their new field. 

It simply doesn’t work. Maybe, as an example, cyber crime with its multiple facets demands changes in its personnel and computational infrastructure. It seems to scream a pressing need which may demand a separate and distinct agency.

Maybe, just maybe, it is time for the RCMP to get out of the city policing areas like Burnaby or Richmond altogether. Their ability to make policy and structure for the officer in Moose Jaw do not fit the problems in Surrey, or Gander and is totally un-relatable to the Ottawa Mountie working in “national security”. But they seem resolved to try and drive square pegs into round holes.

The RCMP is being propped up by the “too big to fail” phenomena. It continues to be a monolithic organization, grinding slowly and inexorably to some ill-defined or irrelevant goal. It is without a singular vision, and that vision is blurred by its very own organizational structure, with all its complex layers and forms nullifying the ability to see clearly.

The entire current structure of the RCMP may have outlived its due date.

Alas, there is no solution or even hope in this Departmental report. This latest “report” is nothing more than bureaucratic pablum. The good news is that probably nobody is going to read it or pay it any heed. After all, why would you?

Photo courtesy of Fickr Commons by sammydavisdog- Some Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “Through the Looking Glass

  1. Perhaps the force should align itself with the First Nations where there is lots of money . . . why it could even be called the Forcer Nations!

    And the boys have not even started to negotiate for wages increases for why else would the government reduce the budget???

    Mel

    >

    Like

  2. As a young Constable, I remember Commissioner Inkster’s parting words. “The RCMP has become too big to be managed. It should be Federal Policing only.”

    At the time I thought it was an odd thing for a retiring Commissioner to say. As the years went by, I completely understood what he meant.

    He made that comment in the mid 1990’s. Now the RCMP is in bed with politicians, all levels of government and their ‘partners’.

    Like

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