Amidst growing concerns a sheriff shortage is hurting B.C.’s justice system, Attorney General Niki Sharma says help is on the way.
“With law-enforcement agencies across the country experiencing recruitment and retention challenges, (B.C. Sheriff Service) listened to the concerns of sheriffs to better understand what changes are needed to help guard against court closures and improve working conditions, and that’s what we’re taking action on,” she said in a statement released Wednesday after a rash of reports highlighting issues in BCSS.
About 550 sheriffs protect judges and other officials, transport accused persons in custody, and otherwise maintain safety at 89 court locations across B.C.
An internal report — which includes 25 recommendations — found BCSS is struggling to recruit and retain staff because of low pay relative to law enforcement agencies and a toxic work environment marked by bullying and sexual harassment.
A resulting staff shortage has led to increased stress, burnout and sick leave, as well as longer wait times for court appearances, delays, and procedural stays in some high-profile trials.
Authorities had to cancel or delay at least 86 court appearances this year, according to the ministry.
Salary rates – effective April 9, 2023 – for deputy sheriffs start at almost $68,000 in the first year and rise to $77,000 in year five.
This compares to the five-year rates for a border service agent of $75,000 to $89,000, an RCMP officer of $66,000 to $106,000 and municipal officers in Abbotsford ($72,000 to $112,000), Surrey ($80,000 to $115,000) and Delta ($83,000 to $119,000).
Sharma announced steps including more competitive pay and benefits dating back to April 2023, incentives for recruitment and retention dating back to August 2023, and lowering application costs to the Justice Institute of British Columbia, which trains new sheriffs through a 14-week-long course with three in-takes per year.
Other measures include a marketing campaign and promises to further improve pay, working conditions and support for employees.
Sharma’s ministry said in a statement that those efforts are starting to pay off. BCSS received 624 applications during the summer in-take, up from 251 in April and 229 in January. According to the ministry, 11 recruits will graduate after 11 weeks of training at JIBC. They will work in Victoria, Williams Lake, Nelson, Cranbrook and communities across the Lower Mainland.
A class up of 18 recruits will begin their training in November, graduating in January 2024.
- with files from Vikki Hopes and Zak Vescera