Beleaguered Nunavik police force trudges on
Kativik Regional Police Force rebuilds after losing more than 30 members
KANGIQSUJUAQ — The Kativik Regional Police Force, which survived the devastating shooting of Cst. Steve Dery and injury of his partner Joshua Boreland this past March in Kuujjuaq, now faces another double challenge: a gutted police force, comprised of new recruits, and rising rates of violent crime.
The police force has lost nearly half of its entire force of 66 — more than 30 — since the beginning of the year, with 12 officers handing in their resignations since March.
These resignations did not include departures due to completed contracts, suspensions or health-related reasons.
For most of these officers who resigned, the death of their co-worker Déry was the “icing on the cake,” KRPF police chief Aileen MacKinnon told Nunatsiaq News after a May 29 presentation she made to the Kativik Regional Government council meeting in Kangiqsujuaq.
MacKinnon said that the generally tough working conditions (which were illustrated by a grim video of police in an Akulivik residence taken this spring) as well as the distance from family were among the other reasons which prompted officers to leave the force.
Overall, the new recruits to the KRPF are young, but well-qualified, MacKinnon said.
Statistics from January to the end of March 2013, shared at the KRG council meeting, show these new hires have their work cut out for them: during those three months there was an increase in inter-personal crime, with assaults up by 19 per cent.
Of the 723 assaults, 69 included assaults against police officers.
Calls involving firearms increased by 71 per cent, with 12 reported in 2013.
In Kuujjuaq, at more than 2,200 residents the largest community in Nunavik, where beer is now sold over the counter, there were 161 assaults — of which 130 were alcohol-related, six alcohol-related sexual assaults and 54 cases of impaired driving.
Puvirnituq, smaller in size by about 500 residents, followed with the second largest number of assaults — 121 — of which 106 were alcohol-related and seven were against police.
If the pace in the number of criminal incidents, 2,748 from January through March 2013, continues to the end of the year, the region will tally up 10,992 criminal incidents for 2013 — one for nearly every man woman and child in Nunavik.
Amazingly, over the last three months, members of the KRPF managed to find time to get involved in the communities they live in, MacKinnon told the meeting in Kangiqsujuaq: in Umiujaq a KRPF officer went every day to help prepare breakfast at the school while another in Ivujivik was involved in floor hockey and volleyball games.
Dealing with bootlegging and trafficking also kept police hopping: working on tips from the communities and with help from the Surêté du Québec provincial police force and the jointly organized aboriginal unit, Unité mixte d’enquête sur le crime organize autochtone in Montreal, police seized alcohol worth $87,304 in Nunavik — more than 870 mickeys of vodka at the going street rate of $100 a bottle, 11,177 grams of marijuana, 69 grams of hash, and a shipment of 75 bottles (size unknown) headed to Kangirsuk.
The total value of the seized alcohol and drugs would have cost $726,065 in Nunavik — and a mere $158,860 in the South.
As for positive developments, the KRPF has a new one-year funding agreement with Quebec, Ottawa and the KRG that gives the force $20 million for 2013.
Some of that will be spent on hiring guards from the South to keep an eye on detainees in Nunavik communities where few want to serve as guards — possibly due to the incidents that have occurred in cells, which include the 2012 death of a 39-year-old man who was in custody at the Puvirnituq police station.
At the May 29 KRG meeting, MacKinnon and other KRPF officers who accompanied her said incarceration isn’t the solution to what ails many in Nunavik and causes them to end up in jail.
What’s needed is more addictions treatment options and diversion from the court system, such as those called for by the project called “reconstructing social regulation” in English (Inillatirigiatsianiq Inuuqatigiit in Inutittut), which aims to restore social peace, keep adults out of jail and give children safer, healthier lives.
The plan would mean that when police arrest someone, a mobile intervention team would size up the problem, and the person, and according to the nature of the crime, look at other options such as detox and rehabilitation.
For that, Nunavik will need additional specialized services — and more money.
Faced with these challenges, you might think MacKinnon would be daunted.
But she said the new members of the KRPF all want to be in the region — and she plans to visit the region’s communities to meet with them.