“If an emergency call goes out, we’re lucky if we can get a police officer here in 45 minutes,” said Michael Gregory, who’s now retired from the RCMP after a 25-year career.
“I used to be in charge of the office that policed this community and there was always someone on call. If there was an emergency and if I got a call, me or another officer was on the scene within 10, 15 minutes.”
Gregory, who retired in 1996 and currently serves as the community’s municipal councillor, said the lack of police presence is a consequence of a centralization model that the Nova Scotia RCMP created about a decade ago. Larger detachments known as district offices were set up around the province and as a result Tatamagouche lost four permanent, community-based police officers.
Now, 35 police officers operate out of Colchester District detachment in Bible Hill. It’s through this institution that officers are tasked with patrolling all of Colchester County, including Tatamagouche.
“I can understand their reasoning. It’s a cost-saving measure. The office in Tatamagouche serves just as a satellite office. There’s no full-time members working out of Tatamagouche anymore,” he said.
“All the members go to Bible Hill. So if the closest officer on duty is in Stewiacke and dealing with a call, and then he or she has to get to Tatamagouche, that’s quite a hike.”
Gregory, who sits on the municipality’s police advisory committee, says the problem of chronic wait times has been a constant source of anger for residents in Tatamagouche and other remote communities in the municipality. Over the years he has lobbied unsuccessfully to increase police presence in the community.
“There have been several other instances that have gone on here for the last number of years, and sometimes it’s two days later before someone would show up. Sometimes it wasn’t a serious complaint but it was enough that warranted police arriving and checking it out.”
But Gregory stopped short of saying the former four-member detachment could have prevented the tragedy that unfolded in the Tatamagouche area. Ernie (Junior) Ross Duggan, 49, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Susan (Susie) Butlin. Her body was found Sunday at her Bayhead home.
“I wouldn’t say 100 per cent. Police can’t offer 24-hour protection to somebody. I can’t say that this would have been prevented. Even if there was an officer sitting at the church two minutes away from Susie’s house, who’s to say it doesn’t happen?”
In Wednesday’s edition of The Chronicle Herald, it was reported that Butlin visited the Bible Hill detachment last Thursday and told officers she was afraid for her life. She died three days later.
Staff Sgt. Al Carroll of the Colchester District RCMP would not comment on the specifics of the case, including allegations that Butlin endured harassment from Duggan over a two-month period. Carroll said it’s difficult to say whether a detachment with four permanent police officers could have prevented her death.
He also said the district is five officers short of being fully staffed.
“Potentially, you could have a police officer on every street corner, it’s not going to prevent certain things,” said Carroll. “There’s no difficulty reaching a police officer. It might take some time. We can usually get back to the person in a couple of hours, depending on the urgency.
“Maybe some days there will be no members. Members will patrol from Bible Hill down to Tatamagouche. They respond to calls and make patrols. Do they have 24-7 policing? No they don’t.
“The reality is that the call volume in Tatamagouche is not a real high call volume and so we patrol in a district concept.”
But Gregory said the reason the call volume may be low is because in many cases people don’t bother calling because they know the response time is so long.
“It’s not going to change because it’s not up to Al Carroll to change it. It’s a staffing issue coming out of Ottawa. This is the way they want policing done.”
– Andrew Rankin – The Chronicle Herald