Filling in the ranks
Shortage makes recruiting essential

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 31/00) - Const. Amber Powder had almost given up on her dream job as an RCMP officer when she failed the entrance exam seven years ago.

"Then a year later I was living in Fort Simpson, going for my nursing, and I thought, maybe I'll write the test again," she said from her office at RCMP headquarters in Yellowknife.

"A constable suggested I apply for the aboriginal cadet training program. I got in, then passed my test."

Powder and other young aboriginal people in the NWT are the police force's key to filling the ranks.

"Are we facing a human resources shortage? No," said Sgt. Dave West, G Division's staffing and personnel manager. "When you look at it, we're much better off than most divisions."

The police in the NWT have 166 funded positions for officers, seven of which are currently vacant.

Other divisions, such as Nova Scotia and British Columbia, are short hundreds of officers.

West said the small Northern shortage is caused by transfers and general movement in the force.

"For example, we had one member transfer to Iqaluit this week, and his replacement hasn't arrived yet," said West.

The size of detachments in the NWT is one reason why G Division is better off than most.

"Most of our detachments are small units, with three, four or five persons," West said. "We're obliged to those members to keep staffing up because of safety and service delivery."

One way the Northern divisions top up their numbers is through recruitment, especially of aboriginal people.

Nunavut's RCMP have been actively recruiting Inuit youth, using advertisements and public service announcements.

West said the NWT's approach has been more low-key, because at the moment only three NWT cadets are admitted to the RCMP's training academy each term.

"Preference is given to aboriginal people and visible minorities," he said. "This allows us to better reflect the communities we're serving."

Powder, who now works for recruiting, said it can be difficult for young aboriginal people to become a police officer.

"Being in a small town, you can get a lot of slack from your friends and your family (for wanting to be a cop)," she said. "So no one really asked me about it in (Fort Smith).

"Here, hopefully I'll have that chance to interact with other women and men, too."

Const. Colin Allen Jr., a recent training academy graduate from Inuvik, is now serving in Hay River. He said being a role model to aboriginal children may lead some of them to choose a career as a cop.

"It helps the communities to have people from the North," he said. "I was just at the school, and everyone was saying 'Hi, constable,' and smiling."

Allen said his role model was his cousin, an RCMP officer in his home town.

The division is considering bringing back the popular aboriginal cadet development program, which had youth work with the RCMP in their community and study for the training academy entrance examination. Federal funding for the program was cut two years ago.

Both Allen and Powder were cadets. Powder said the program helped her prepare for becoming a police officer.

"The three of us (cadets) would study, study, study," she said. "And we'd go to the gym and do other things to prepare."

However, she said the program needs improvements before it is reintroduced.

"Just seeing the success rate of that program ... of my troupe that went south for training, four of us graduated out of 24," she said. "I think it's an exciting program if you're willing to work hard, but we need to find out what we were doing wrong and how we can improve our numbers."

West said Northern detachments have done much better in their aboriginal recruiting than the national standard.

While the national average of aboriginal officers is four per cent, G Division stands at 14 per cent.