Sgt. Jeff Swann is down, but not out, in the fight for his right to stay in Ucluelet and both he and his community plan to keep punching.
Swann recently received a transfer order to Port Alberni.
“Port Alberni is a fantastic choice but Ucluelet is still my preferred choice,” Swann told the Westerly News.
“Slowly the nails are going into the coffin, so to speak, but I’m on the inside trying to hammer a couple nails out.”
Swann has commanded the Ucluelet RCMP detachment since 2009 and has requested a two-year extension on his posting to conclude the substantial community-policing projects he has spearheaded.
“Even though I’ve been told I have to transfer, I’m hopeful that the RCMP will still consider to reconsider. I’ve still got a few options I’m pursuing with that,” he said.
“I’m still thinking that there’s got to be some hope somewhere.”
He added that, wherever he ends up, he will remain committed to the RCMP.
“I love the organization I work for, I like going to work, and I’m going to put my best product forward in whatever capacity or town that may be,” he said.
Swann added that if he absolutely had to move, Port Alberni is a solid destination.
“My first choice is Ucluelet and if it can’t be Ucluelet I’m excited that it’s somewhere that I’m very comfortable and familiar with,” he said.
He said the Ucluelet and Port Alberni detachments work closely together and he has enjoyed positive relationships with Port Alberni’s police.
“I know the majority of the members in Port Alberni and I’m looking forward to working with them whenever that opportunity does arise,” he said.
“For now, and for the foreseeable future until these irons in the fire get sorted out or our house sells, I will continue to be a Ucluelet resident.”
Coun Sally Mole told the Westerly News she felt “flabbergasted, angry, sad, (and) dismissed,” when she heard Swann had received his transfer papers despite Ucluelet’s collective and clear desire to keep him.
“I feel we’ve been largely ignored,” she said. “There was no consultation done with the communities served by our local RCMP.”
Mole noted Swann has overseen a 60 per cent reduction in Ucluelet’s crime rate since his arrival in 2009 and has brought a consistently positive community presence to Ucluelet.
“He’s done a good job; it’s a good news story,” she said.
“But also the community involvement is huge…He and his family have really become leaders in this community.”
She said the RCMP have not made a compelling case for Swann’s forced departure and assured that she will continue lobbying for Swann to stay.
“During my term, ongoing efforts have been made to keep a valued service in our area. We have had dialogue with every level of government we can, including Ottawa,” she said adding Swann, who was recently named Ucluelet’s Citizen of the Year, is an appreciated and valuable member of the community.
“The relationships that have been built with so many different factions of our community have far reaching, long term effects, and take a lot of time to build. The trust and respect I see between our community members and our local RCMP have made our community stronger and more resilient.”
Mole is also the executive director of Ucluelet’s chamber of commerce and launched a letter writing campaign earlier this year to allow the local business community to voice its opinion on the issue.
“When we heard the news that Sgt. Swann was likely to be transferred a number of businesses expressed concern,” Mole said.
“They were wanting to keep something that’s been in place and has worked, our crimes stats have been dropping steadily, and the business community felt like we’re in a good spot right now we don’t need to change it, it’s not broken.”
Mole received over 50 letters supporting Swann’s request to stay as well as a surprising amount of correspondence from out-of-towners.
“The ones that I got from outside our area we’re a great surprise to have, mostly other RCMP officers who can’t understand why this process is going the way it is going, so that was a nice and different perspective,” she said.
Mole was both disappointed and surprised to receive no direct response from the RCMP.
“Nothing has come back across my desk in response to that,” she said.
“I thought I would have had something back just even saying, ‘Thank you, we received your package,’ but nothing.”
Mole is currently leading another letter writing campaign and anyone wishing to add their voice is encouraged to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re not giving up, absolutely not,” she said adding she hopes to convince the RCMP to reexamine their decision.
“I think they really want to think this through and make sure that they’re making the right decision because the community has spoken and spoken quite loudly.”
Mole assured the fight continues and said Ucluelet’s council will meet with the RCMP in September along with leadership from the Toquaht and Ucluelet First Nations.
“There’s always optimism,” she said.
“It’s a challenge for sure, but this community is not unfamiliar with facing challenges and together we’ve got a good strong voice.”
UPDATE: Aug. 11, 2:20 p.m.
Coun. Sally Mole has retracted her comment regarding receiving no response from the RCMP.
“Today I received an email from Chief Superintendent Ray Bernoties regarding the Sgt Swann situation,” Mole told the Westerly on Aug.11. “On searching through emails, I did find (an) email in my junk files, responding to communication I had sent him earlier that same day. It was an unfortunate error on my part, and thus I sincerely retract the statement made that I had not received any response from the RCMP on this matter.”
UPDATE: Aug 11, 3:17 p.m.
The email sent from Chief Superintendent Bernoties to Coun. Mole on July 23 is included below with permission from both parties.
“Thank you for your email Ms. Mole.
I am very pleased with the service that Sgt Swann has provided Ucluelet. We ask our Commanders to be engaged in their communities and clearly Sgt Swann performed impressively in this regard.
Unfortunately, the RCMP must consider all communities we serve and all individuals we employ.
Ucluelet is a 4 year Limited Duration Posting and I’m pleased we could provide Sgt Swann two one year extensions, giving him 6 years in Ucluelet.
I regret to inform you that Sgt Swann has been transferred. I am pleased that we were able to transfer him to the neighbouring community of Port Alberni.”
C/Supt Ray Bernoties
Island District Commander