City: more needed for Victim Services

The decision to decrease the operational hours of the RCMP Victim Services program due to staff burnout in October 2009 wasn’t a happy one.

The decision to decrease the operational hours of the RCMP Victim Services program due to staff burnout in October 2009 wasn’t a happy one.

Prior to that time, says program manager Elizabeth Hutchinson, two full-time staff managed caseloads throughout the day and responded to emergency calls during the night — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“My heart was heavy,” says Hutchinson of the decision to cut back.

“It’s not something we wanted to do; it’s just that you hit a wall and you can’t do everything.”

Since then the organization — which provides immediate crisis support, intervention and referrals for victims of crime, as well as those who have suffered emergency trauma, and liaises between victims, the police, coroner, criminal justice system and community support agencies — has restricted its hours, making the two staff members available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

The City, which partially funds the positions, says RCMP Victim Services is not adequately funded and is lobbying for more money from the provincial government.

The current funding model provides money on a per capita basis; however, the City says it would be more fair if funding was based on need that takes into consideration crime rates and judicial case loads.

“We have an extremely high demand and the case load for vicim services due to the high crime rate and the fact that we are a hub community that serves the entire outlying area,” says Brian Carruthers, City chief administration officer. “So we have difficulty keeping up with the demands with the current funding we receive.”

Currently the province contributes approximately $60,000 to the service, the City of Williams Lake provides $60,000, and the Cariboo Regional District $20,000.

That, says Carruthers, is enough to pay for two full-time workers who struggle to keep up with demand.

Hutchinson thinks an increase in funding could be used to hire some auxiliary staff who could cover the on-call, and after-hours work.

Through a resolution to the North Central Local Government Association, the City hopes to raise the issue of funding for victim services with other northern communities with the intent of bringing it to the provincial government’s attention, although council doesn’t expect a sympathetic ear.

The province, says Carruthers, has made it clear it will not provide any more funding to the program.

“That means if we feel it’s important to increase the service that we provide … it means that the local taxpayers are going to have to find more money to pay for victim services,” he says.

While volunteers fill gaps in other organizations, Hutchinson says they can not be utilized in victim services because volunteers do not have the security clearance needed to access RCMP files. Hutchinson says in addition to the other benefits provided by the service, it allows RCMP members to get back on the road sooner.

She thinks the service’s current operational hours preclude some people from accessing support, noting that people who need immediate assistance may not visit the office the morning following an emergency incident or trauma.