The Timmins Police Service (TPS) is struggling to recruit or retain officers despite generous incentive programs as many police departments in Canada are also dealing with staffing issues.
Some former TPS officers say money has nothing to do with their decision to stay in the force and are calling for leadership changes to improve the overall work environment.
The northern Ontario city, with a population of about 30,000, has 96 full-time positions in its municipal police force, but only about 80 of them are filled. Some officers are on leave or otherwise unable to work, leaving only about 70 available to cover shifts at any given time.
Last fall, the Timmins Police Association asked the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) to look into the staffing issue, stating concerns it could translate to inadequate policing services for the community.
File photo shows a person speaking with a police officer. Half a dozen constables have resigned from the Timmins police force in the past six months. (Nick Purdon/CBC)
Police forces in London, Ont.,Hamilton and Halifax are among those dealing with their own recruitment and retainment issues, for a variety of reasons — including lack of opportunities for training and career advancement, negative perceptions of policing, burnout and pay.
In Timmins, last year, the police services board rolled out an incentive program that promised new officers a signing bonus of between $20,000 and $30,000, depending on their experience.
To keep the bonus, new officers have to commit to working in Timmins for five years.
The board also introduced an incentive for current officers — those who stay until 2026 will receive $30,000.
Limited results so far
While the deadline to sign on to these incentive programs is still 10 weeks away, there have been limited results.
Board chair Kraymr Grenke said two new officers were recruited through the $20,000 incentive since it rolled out last summer.
"We've had some relative success and look to continue that throughout the year," he said.
The incentives did not translate to the doors being blown off the hinges as far as applicants were concerned. But it did create a number of genuine conversations with a number of prospective applicants who may very well consider Timmins in the long term. - Marc Depatie, TPS spokesperson
TPS spokesperson Marc Depatie added that the incentive program could potentially help plant the seeds for future hires.
"The incentives did not translate to the doors being blown off the hinges as far as applicants were concerned.
"But it did create a number of genuine conversations with a number of prospective applicants who may very well consider Timmins in the long term," he said.
It is more difficult to assess the effectiveness of the retention incentive, as the 58 officers who signed on could still decide to resign before 2026 and forgo the $30,000 bonus.
As well, about half a dozen constables resigned in the past year despite that incentive.
'No amount of money would make me stay': ex-officer
CBC spoke with some former Timmins officers about their reasons for resigning. They agreed to speak on the condition they remain anonymous, for fear of repercussions on their professional lives.
One former constable said "no amount of money would make me stay with the TPS."
"I and several others didn't leave policing; we left the TPS because of how it was managed."
Several former TPS officers spoke of a difficult workplace environment where internal politics are governed by a "boys' club."
"The best cops are not the ones getting promoted," said one source. According to that source, opportunities are given to those with connections to a specific group of people as opposed to the merits of their work.
These former TPS officers also told CBC they believe management has encouraged the development of an increasingly toxic climate over the years, with co-workers reporting on each other in hopes of climbing up the professional ladder.
Some also spoke of misaligned priorities in terms of how resources were allocated to different crimes.
One pointed out that TPS does not have a drug unit, and it is policing a city heavily impacted by the opioid crisis.
'No incentive can change the atmosphere'
Nick Osborne was a constable for the TPS for 14 years before turning in his badge in late 2022.
He said his experience with his former employer made him want to leave policing for good.
"I've worked towards a career in policing since I was a teenager — that's how badly I wanted to do it," he said, adding he even volunteered for the TPS before being hired as a constable.
Osborne said several factors led to his resignation, chief among them the feeling the "boys' club" mentality was too ingrained to lead to lasting improvements in the workplace environment.
"There's no incentive that the police service can provide that's going to change that atmosphere, and it's nothing that would convince me to come back.
Timmins police spokesperson Marc Depatie says, 'The incentives did not translate to the doors being blown off the hinges as far as applicants were concerned.' (Erik White/CBC)
"I was so discouraged by everything that I experienced with the TPS," he said.
He added he couldn't find it in him to continue policing for another agency, fearing he would end up reliving similar experiences elsewhere.
Having spent several years working for the police union, Osborne believes "a lot of people are simply afraid of bringing anything up to management because they know it's going to make their life worse."
Osborne believes the community at large should be made aware of internal problems at the TPS.
The board is looking for a new chief
Both Grenke and Depatie said some recent resignations were due to changes in personal circumstances, or expectations not being met.
"Perhaps that sort of thing is something that, you know, in certain circumstances we couldn't absolutely control," said Depatie.
"We do hear a variety of reasons why they're looking to leave, whether it's work life balance, or there may be an issue in the workplace that, you know, we have the opportunity to fix in the future," said Grenke.
The TPS board is looking for a new police chief — Dan Foy retired suddenly last fall after serving for under two years. Former police chief Denis Lavoie is now acting chief, until a new head is chosen.
But the former constables CBC spoke to said they're not convinced a new chief would lead to meaningful change. Some are calling for more drastic changes at the leadership level.
Others believe the Ontario Provincial Police should replace the TPS.