Sher­iff short­age needs a so­lu­tion

The Daily Courier - - OPINION -

A trial shrunk to one hour. Two cases ad­journed. Court­rooms closed for two days. Tri­als de­layed two hours. The short­age of sher­iffs is cramp­ing the jus­tice sys­tem.

The NDP gov­ern­ment didn’t cre­ate this prob­lem, but it has cer­tainly in­her­ited it. And solv­ing it won’t be any eas­ier for Premier John Hor­gan than it was for Christy Clark.

With the prob­lems fac­ing the jus­tice sys­tem, all of which seem to throt­tle it down to a glacial pace, find­ing enough sher­iffs seems as if it should be eas­ily solved. Not so.

Lawyers and po­lice of­fi­cers might be bogged down by oner­ous re­quire­ments for pre-trial dis­clo­sure. Judges might be swamped with cases. Plain­tiffs and de­fen­dants might be do­ing their best to gum up the works.

But find­ing enough peo­ple to move prison­ers around and pro­vide se­cu­rity at court­houses is turn­ing into just as big a bot­tle­neck. And it’s not as sim­ple as hir­ing a few more of them. The prov­ince is al­ready do­ing that.

A class of 30 re­cruits grad­u­ated from the Jus­tice In­sti­tute two weeks ago, which gives a to­tal of 490 in the prov­ince. But not ev­ery court­house is get­ting one of the new sher­iffs.

Last week, pro­vin­cial court Judge Loretta Chap­eron said it was “ap­palling” that her court­room was de­layed for two hours be­cause of the short­age of sher­iffs. A wit­ness who was in cus­tody and a po­lice of­fi­cer who was tes­ti­fy­ing on his day off were left cool­ing their heels.

When things fi­nally got un­der way about 11:30 a.m., the Crown pros­e­cu­tor warned they would have to wrap up by 2 p.m. be­cause the sher­iff had to be sent some­where else.

The week be­fore, pro­vin­cial court Judge Car­men Rogers ad­journed two cases be­cause of the lack of sher­iffs.

Court­rooms in Vic­to­ria were closed on Mon­day and Wed­nes­day and tri­als were de­layed two hours on Tues­day.

These painfully fa­mil­iar prob­lems are now the headache of At­tor­ney Gen­eral David Eby, who ac­quired them, along with a partial so­lu­tion, from the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment.

The so­lu­tion was to put an ad­di­tional $2.7 mil­lion into train­ing more sher­iffs, and Eby is con­tin­u­ing that project, even though it hasn’t yet plugged all the holes.

A ma­jor is­sue is get­ting sher­iffs to stay. The RCMP and mu­nic­i­pal po­lice forces, los­ing of­fi­cers to re­tire­ment, see sher­iffs and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers as prime tar­gets for re­cruit­ment. The po­lice of­fer bet­ter pay, more re­spon­si­bil­ity and broader scope for peo­ple in­ter­ested in law en­force­ment.

The B.C. Gov­ern­ment and Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees’ Union main­tains that rais­ing the pay scale is one part of the an­swer.

Sher­iffs are paid $58,000 a year, while the av­er­age salary of a mu­nic­i­pal po­lice of­fi­cer is $93,000. The union says rais­ing sher­iffs’ pay to $71,000 would help stem the out­flow.

Eby, sound­ing like his Lib­eral pre­de­ces­sors, says col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing is the ap­pro­pri­ate place to talk about pay in­creases.

Is a raise go­ing to solve this prob­lem? For many peo­ple who want to get into law en­force­ment, the greater chal­lenge, re­spon­si­bil­ity and op­por­tu­nity for ad­vance­ment makes po­lice work more at­trac­tive.

That sug­gests it will take more than dol­lars to keep sher­iffs on the job.

In Al­berta, sher­iffs also do sur­veil­lance, in­ves­ti­ga­tion and traf­fic en­force­ment. Does the broader scope im­prove re­ten­tion? Giv­ing B.C. sher­iffs more du­ties out­side the court­house might aid re­ten­tion, but would ob­vi­ously not ease the bot­tle­neck in our court­rooms.

The short­age of sher­iffs is part of a much big­ger prob­lem with the jus­tice sys­tem that can­not be fixed by or­ders from the Supreme Court. It de­mands cre­ative think­ing.

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