Sheriffs in B.C. need better training and more effective ways to monitor the safety and security of courts, a report released by the province’s auditor general found.
Thursday’s report from Carol Bellringer focused on the human resource practices of the B.C. Sheriff Service, following reports of delays across the province’s courthouses. In Canada, trials have only 18 months on the provincial level, and 30 at the federal level before the case can be dismissed.
The sheriff’s service launched a plan to better train and retain staff in 2017, which the audit found not sufficient. The audit found that while the plan included strategies to hire more sheriffs, the service doesn’t know if its staffing goals are sufficient, or why sheriffs leave in the first place.
When the auditor general looked at staffing between 2012 and 2017, Bellringer found the service lost more sheriffs than it was able to hire.
The audit found that while new hires received “considerable, high-quality training,” ongoing training was lacking.
“The BCSS did not maintain an accurate and complete list of the courses it provided to its in-service staff, nor did it have an overarching training plan that outlined the courses these staff were expected to take to ensure they were prepared for the job,” the audit noted.
When Bellringer’s office first looked at mandatory firearms and use of force training in 2017 to 2018, they found that less than 40 per cent of sheriffs re-qualified on their firearm and use of force training on time. In 2019, Bellringer said the sheriff’s service lengthened the time between qualification tests “without examining the impact” it would have.
“The improper use of a firearm or force can have significant consequences for courthouse staff and the public,” Bellringer said. “Failure to properly train sheriffs increases the risk and severity of incidents, accidents and injuries, should sheriffs need to use their firearm or force.”
In its response to the audit, the province said it was just the policy manual that was updated during the audit to reflect “long-standing practice in the field,” and that the guidelines had been in place since 2017.
However, Bellringer’s audit said she did “not find any evidence” that the change was based on any assessments of what staff felt they needed.
“In fact, many of the staff we interviewed felt that even the original policy (with stricter requirements) was insufficient to maintain their skills in these areas,” the audit said.
Under the new requirements, 15 to 20 per cent of staff still did not meet the guidelines.