The next wave of RCMP hires might be more likely to wear red hoodies than red serge.
The national police service is looking to hire more civilian investigators to tackle some of its more complex investigations — things like cybercrime and money laundering.
“The world has changed and we need to change,” said Sean McGillis, the RCMP’s executive director of federal policing resource management.
“We’re maybe playing with the DNA of the organization here, but in a good way.”
The change has been small so far. The RCMP launched a pilot project to bring in civilians with backgrounds in coding, cyber forensics and financial crime and is now moving to make it a permanent program.
A spokesperson said the RCMP has hired 14 civilians under the pilot project and is aiming for another 24 hires this fiscal year.
“So our numbers are low at this point, in terms of being able to actually get people through the door,” said McGillis.
“But we’ve had a lot of success in terms of attracting attention. People want to come and be part of this mission.”
McGillis said he would like eventually to get to a point where the RCMP is hiring 100 civilians per year.
“That would be aggressive, given the conditions in the labour market, but something that I think is worth striving towards,” he said.
His team isn’t the only one facing hiring hurdles in the private sector.
Labour market for cybersecurity experts is in ‘crisis’
Governments can find it very hard to compete with private sector salaries — and the intense security checks required of anyone working on sensitive government files can also discourage outside hires.
“The labour market in cybersecurity in Canada and globally is in crisis,” said Charles Finlay, executive director of the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst program at Toronto Metropolitan University. The program receives funding from the federal government.
“There are hundreds of thousands of open positions in Canada and there are millions of open positions worldwide. So the labour market shortage is extreme. There’s basically zero unemployment in this sector. The numbers are daunting.”
The Communications Security Establishment, which gathers and decodes signals intelligence and is also in charge of technology security for the federal government, has said it’s facing its own challenges in recruiting and retaining cybersecurity experts.
“Are we competing with CSE? Yes. Are we competing with CSIS? Yes. Are we competing with the private sector? Yes, we’re all going after the same talent,” said McGillis.
“I think the security and intelligence community does a pretty good job of making sure that we’re not stealing from each other. And if we are, it’s in the best interest of all the partners, but it is a challenge.”
Civilians can become peace officers
The RCMP has been trying to tap talent in the private sector and graduate programs and has set up student co-op programs to tackle cybercrime.
According to the latest Statistics Canada reporting, more than two-fifths of large businesses (250 or more employees) were affected by cyber security incidents in 2019. That year, just under 30 per cent of medium-sized businesses (those with 50 to 249 employees) and 18 per cent of small businesses were affected.
New hires are introduced to the RCMP’s police sciences training curriculum, said McGillis — which is simpler than trying to teach serving officers how to code.
Depending on their role, a civilian can even be granted peace officer status. That gives them the power to do what a regular member does without putting themselves in harm’s way.
“We want them to be as integrated and as embedded in the investigative teams as they possibly can be,” said McGillis.
“If you were to ask me 15 years from now what could that look like, you may very easily have a civilian investigator leading the investigative team supplemented by regular members. Who knows?”
Finlay’s school offers a cybersecurity training and certification program with a focus on women, new Canadians, displaced workers, Black and Indigenous people and other persons of colour. He said interest in the field outpaces the number of available spaces in the program.
He said the RCMP’s recruitment problem could be addressed in part by teaming up with academics and the private sector to update what is taught at the Canadian Police College.
“What the RCMP is going through in terms of this issue around cybersecurity professionals is not unique to the RCMP … But there’s an opportunity here that I think the RCMP should take advantage of,” he said.
“I think that the RCMP is in a position to create cybersecurity training programs for both uniformed officers and for civilians that can deliver to the RCMP personnel with the skills that they need.”
The RCMP’s move to bring in more civilians comes as it struggles to attract and keep regular members. An RCMP spokesperson said its job vacancy rate is about 4.3 per cent.
McGillis stressed the program isn’t about replacing boots-on-the-ground officers.
“This is really about driving towards that right expertise. And that’s not to say that our regular member force doesn’t have it,” he said.
“But when you look at the criminality that we’re tackling, it’s actually our regular members who are telling us we need to go out and find people with these skill sets.”
A spokesperson for the National Police Federation said the union didn’t have a comment “to share at this time.”