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Could it be RCMP?

Brandon School Division board chair Mark Sefton, left, shakes the hand of teacher Don Cuggy as former Brandon Sun city editor Melissa Ridgen smiles and applauds for her former teacher following a special presentation at a recent school board meeting. 
Ridgen, now a Winnipeg-based television journalist, submitted a short composition to Cuggy which appeared earlier this year in Reader’s Digest online. The touching recollection of Ridgen’s time in Cuggy’s Grade 4 class at Betty Gibson School made the rounds in faculty lounges across the city this fall.
“Mr. Cuggy introduced me to a new side of life: language (French), culture, creative writing and classical music. He picked the most amazing books for us to read and every afternoon we got to sit and get lost in a story while Vivaldi filled the classroom. It was an escape from the hopelessness that hung over my impoverished neighbourhood in Brandon, Manitoba,” the submission reads in part.
Ridgen goes on to explain the teacher’s impact on her choice to become a storyteller herself, something Cuggy said is especially poetic for him as a literacy support teacher.
“When you know that your students are still readers and still writers, it’s one of the messages you try and get across to the kids and when you know they received that message, it’s nice to see that, it really is,” he told the Sun in November. “It was a very nice surprise ... Melissa was in my first class of my first year teaching. I can look at that class photo and know every child immediately.”
Cuggy, who has been teaching for 30 years, is now a librarian and literacy support teacher at Linden Lanes School.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD Enlarge Image

Brandon School Division board chair Mark Sefton, left, shakes the hand of teacher Don Cuggy as former Brandon Sun city editor Melissa Ridgen smiles and applauds for her former teacher following a special presentation at a recent school board meeting. Ridgen, now a Winnipeg-based television journalist, submitted a short composition to Cuggy which appeared earlier this year in Reader’s Digest online. The touching recollection of Ridgen’s time in Cuggy’s Grade 4 class at Betty Gibson School made the rounds in faculty lounges across the city this fall. “Mr. Cuggy introduced me to a new side of life: language (French), culture, creative writing and classical music. He picked the most amazing books for us to read and every afternoon we got to sit and get lost in a story while Vivaldi filled the classroom. It was an escape from the hopelessness that hung over my impoverished neighbourhood in Brandon, Manitoba,” the submission reads in part. Ridgen goes on to explain the teacher’s impact on her choice to become a storyteller herself, something Cuggy said is especially poetic for him as a literacy support teacher. “When you know that your students are still readers and still writers, it’s one of the messages you try and get across to the kids and when you know they received that message, it’s nice to see that, it really is,” he told the Sun in November. “It was a very nice surprise ... Melissa was in my first class of my first year teaching. I can look at that class photo and know every child immediately.” Cuggy, who has been teaching for 30 years, is now a librarian and literacy support teacher at Linden Lanes School.

The Mounties always get their man ... er, person.

But should the City of Brandon be on the hunt for the Horsemen — ... er, Horsepeople — in an attempt to rein in spiralling policing costs?

That controversial question has been simmering on the back burner for some time, but has again been brought a bit closer to the heat after a recent column by Brandon-based Winnipeg Free Press columnist Deveryn Ross.

Ross’ column followed an in-depth Brandon Sun analysis of policing costs, as the city grapples with its proposed $75.2-million operating budget for next year.

The budget is split into seven categories. And as reported in the Sun, the largest portion, 35.6 per cent, goes toward protective services.

To put that into context, the next largest piece of the pie goes toward infrastructure, which includes snow removal, drainage and maintenance, at 23.4 per cent. Support services (human resources, information technology, treasury, etc.) takes up 11 per cent of the budget.

As the Sun analysis showed, between 2006 and 2012, the police budget rose 70 per cent to $13.3 million from $7.84 million. At the same time, the number of reported crimes dropped 46 per cent to 4,301 last year from 6,275 in 2006.

Meanwhile, the number of officers has increased to 87 from 74 (13 of those positions are fully funded by the province and another three partially funded).

The largest component of policing costs are salaries and benefits. Officials estimate those costs account for 85 to 90 per cent of the department’s budget.

While police can’t strike, as the force is deemed an essential service, the city seems to be quite ready to open our wallets for the men and women in blue.

Last February, the city finalized a contract with police officers that gave them a 4.4 per cent raise — retroactive to Jan. 1 — with the possibility of "wage adjustment" later on. That’s part of the city’s overarching efforts to keep key civic employees’ earnings in the ball park with other "comparator centres" — municipalities that are similar to Brandon.

The somewhat misguided thought there is that will help retain workers and ease the strain of hiring and training new staff. But I digress.

The new police contract was only good for one year. The 39 or so non-sworn members covered by the contract received a two per cent wage increase.

It was the second consecutive one-year contract for the BPS.

The previous pact gave an across-the-board raise of two per cent, as well as improved overtime and increased vacation.

The Brandon Police Association currently represents 86 sworn members and 39 non-sworn members within the city of Brandon.

It all sounds pretty sweet. Considering the most crime-addled neighbourhoods of the Wheat City are like a resort town compared to Winnipeg’s North End.

And while the provincial capital routinely has two to three dozen homicides a year and a horrible organized crime problem, Brandon has maybe one or two killings a year and the street gangs here are young and stupid.

Yes, the crime rate is fairly low in Brandon. And a lot of that can be attributed to good police work.

But a lot of it can also be due to the nationwide trend of crime levels dropping as the overall population ages. More seniors than young punks means less crime and more teas with dainties.

And the city and other levels of government — along with the courts — can also help out by working harder on some of the social problems that lead people to commit crimes. Much of police work in Brandon is dealing with drunks, repeat offenders and people with mental health issues.

But as taxpayers, we do want a safe city — for the long term. We also want low taxes — right now.

The high taxes we do pay have to be stretched thin and spent wisely to cover a lot of non-crime-related problems that are emerging in the city, such as crumbling infrastructure and poverty.

Believe it or not, there are ways to pay less for policing.

We aren’t handcuffed to the Brandon Police Service, as Ross noted in his column.

We could take a long, hard look at doing what some other cities even larger than us have done and call in the Mounties.

Ross’ study shows there could be substantial savings — millions of dollars — if we switched from a municipal police force to a contract with the RCMP.

Sure, the RCMP has tarnished its good name in recent years with its fair share of scandals and troubling questions on both training and service levels. But the RCMP is working hard to correct those problems.

Hiring the Mounties is something I suggest the city take a good look at. Unless the Brandon Police Association decides to come to its senses and stop pricing itself out of business.

The arrogance of the cop union was shown in a deliciously bad choice of words by BPA president Kevin Loewen in Ross’ column.

While stating it would fight any efforts to put it out of business — umm, you’re just a city department, not untouchable gods — Loewen took some shots at the service Mounties could provide before offering his view on the Brandon city force.

"The Brandon Police Service provides a Cadillac service to the city both in response times and specialized sections available at a moment’s notice," he said.

Yup, he said that.

In a minivan and muddy truck town, the union boss boasts of providing a "Cadillac" service.

That’s part of the reasons organized labour is becoming less and less attractive in North America and is slowly representing a smaller share of the workforce.

There isn’t a bottomless pit for small companies, large manufacturers or governments at any level.

Do I want to see a well-trained local police force with a rich and proud history of serving the citizens of Brandon be disbanded? Hell no.

But as a taxpayer, my cost of living rises each year far more than my wage, while unionized workers — such as the Brandon Police Service — capture ever more lucrative pay packages.

That’s gotta stop.

The city has to start playing hardball with the cops when it comes to negotiating contracts and the police union has to realize what its members’ services are worth in real dollars to taxpayers.

Or that sound of horses galloping in the distance could get much louder.

•••

Yes, Virginia, there will be a Sun civic matters poll early next year.

I’ve been asked repeatedly if the Sun plans to commission a poll again this year as we’ve done almost annually since I’ve been here.

And as I indicated that we were looking at a poll when asked a couple of weeks ago at the weekly community coffee in our boardroom, I feel I should let all of our readers know that we will indeed be commissioning one in January.

I’ll let the pollsters do their work, so I won’t let the cat out of the bag — meeooow! — right now.

Suffice to say it will likely have something to do with the fact 2014 is a municipal election year. The results from Probe Research should be in by the end of January.

•••

And with that, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading this column — I enjoy the feedback, both good and bad — and for supporting the Brandon Sun so strongly all year.

I’m proud to be the editor of this great Westman media outlet and look forward to another year of serving the community.

I also have some interesting plans for the coming year, including some fresh new local voices joining the existing ranks of our columnists.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 21, 2013

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BC keeps threatening to rid themselves of the RCMP, so there should be lots of extra officers around to work here. I suppose all the scandals, sexual harassment and "above the law" arrogance would add excitement to Westman. I wonder if they would come and steal everyone's guns the next time the river breaks its banks?

No one can blame the police for the wage increases that their members have received, place the blame where it belongs, on administration at City Hall. We cannot fault the police union for taking the money and running! Just wondering why the city offered the firefighter/paramedics two percent? While most people in this city have to settle for another zero, two percent for city employees seems reasonable!<br /><br />Arlene Saito

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The Mounties always get their man ... er, person.

But should the City of Brandon be on the hunt for the Horsemen — ... er, Horsepeople — in an attempt to rein in spiralling policing costs?

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The Mounties always get their man ... er, person.

But should the City of Brandon be on the hunt for the Horsemen — ... er, Horsepeople — in an attempt to rein in spiralling policing costs?

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