Ucluelet’s council fighting to keep top cop

Ucluelet’s leaders are in a tug-of-war with the RCMP, and Ukee’s top cop is stuck at the centre of the rope.

Sgt. Jeff Swann has requested a two-year extension on his limited duration posting in Ucluelet but his bosses at the RCMP have remained steadfast that he will be transferred this summer despite his, and the community’s, wishes.

Ukee’s municipal councilors have been both disappointed and surprised by the RCMP’s unwillingness to work with the community and Coun. Sally Mole said council is digging in for one last attempt at keeping the cop they dig so much.

“It is a bit of a Custer’s last stand but we have to do something; we can’t just stand by and watch it happen,” Mole said. “This is our last ditch effort to make a change there.”

Both Mole and Coun. Randy Oliwa attended a Union of BC Municipalities convention in September of 2014 where they were given the impression that Swann could stay.

“At that meeting, the question was asked, ‘Can we keep our Sergeant?’ The RCMP answered, ‘Absolutely, there is no reason to move a member out of a detachment that did not want to go,’” Oliwa said.

“The council at the time understood this and (were) then deeply saddened to hear that we had been misinformed.”

Mole agreed and said she has been disappointed in the RCMP’s refusal to budge.

“We got a little inkling of hope with the minister at the UBCM, but obviously that didn’t follow through down the ranks,” she said.

 â€œReally, we’re kind of being told what to do and that doesn’t sit well with me given how well we’ve worked together with the RCMP in the past.”

Mole said Swann’s presence in the community is a powerful one and that Swann has put himself, and his staff, at the forefront of young, impressionable, sightlines.

“I see the RCMP at the high school and elementary school a lot and I think it’s really changed our youths’ view of the RCMP,” she said.

“I see that as being a huge positive thing, and it’s long lasting; these kids are still growing and developing and learning and that relationship they’ve got with the RCMP is really something hugely positive and you don’t see that in every community.”

The RCMP assigns limited duration postings to detachments that are isolated and can’t offer their officers as much access to schooling and health care that larger cities can, but Oliwa believes Ucluelet is not as isolated as it once was and the LDP label no longer fits.

 â€œWe listened to the RCMP’s explanation of this designation and we all agreed that Ucluelet had grown up since the designation was implemented many years ago,” Oliwa said.

 â€œWe explained to the RCMP that we would like to explore the options of changing and modernizing our designation to better reflect the new Ucluelet and everything it has to offer.”

He hopes to see the district reach a compromise with the RCMP that ultimately leads to Swann staying in Ucluelet.

“I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and help any way I can,” he said.

While Mole and Oliwa carried this fight from council’s last term, the three newcomers to council have been quick to pick up their swords and join the Swann-saving effort.

“I have never seen a Sergeant be so engaged with all parts of the community,” said Coun. Mayco Noel. 

“If we as Council can influence his commanders then we will do our part to support Sgt. Swann with his fight to serve our great community and be a resident of our District.”

Coun. Marilyn McEwen said the Swann family has become an important fixture in the community.

“I feel Sgt. Swann should be allowed to remain in our community. He and his family have become a big part of Ucluelet, they have built a home here, and they participate in almost every community event,” she said.

She agreed with Oliwa that Ucluelet is mislabeled as a limited duration post.

“Times have changed, and we are not the tough little fishing town we were 30 years ago,” she said.

“RCMP officers in many larger communities are not required to transfer every 4 years, and I think Ucluelet should be one of those communities. We do pay for this service and deserve a voice in matters such as this.”

Mayor Dianne St. Jacques said Ucluelet has made its desire to keep Sgt. Swann clear to the RCMP and the RCMP’s refusal to oblige has been frustrating. 

“It’s certainly disappointing and we will still continue to try to make ourselves heard on that,” she said.

“For us, Sgt. Swann is such a terrific fit…He’s very well liked and trusted in the community and it takes time to build those relationships that he has been successful in building.”

She acknowledged the RCMP has policies and procedures to follow but suggested a win-win compromise could be reached by allowing Swann to stay a few more years.

“It’s good for the RCMP to leave him here for a while longer; he is a very positive face for the police out in the community, he’s super efficient and very caring (and), as a community, we absolutely benefit from all the work he puts in,” she said.

 â€œAllow him to stay for a few more years, complete the processes that he’s started, and then the next person coming in will benefit from all the work that he’s been able to accomplish.”

 

Andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca