The next wave of RCMP hires may be more likely to wear red hoodies than red serges.
The National Police Service is looking to hire more civilian investigators to tackle some of its most complex investigations, such as cybercrime and money laundering.
“The world has changed and we have to change,” said Sean McGillis, executive director of federal policing resource management at the RCMP.
“We may be playing with the DNA of the organization here, but in a good way.”
The change has been minimal so far. The RCMP has launched a pilot project to bring in civilians with experience in coding, cybercrime and financial crime and is now preparing to make it a permanent program.
A spokesperson said the RCMP has hired 14 civilians under the pilot project and is targeting 24 more hires this fiscal year.
“So our numbers are weak at this point, in terms of getting people through the door,” McGillis said.
“But we’ve been very successful in getting attention. People want to come and be part of this mission.”
McGillis said he would like to eventually get to a point where the RCMP hires 100 civilians a year.
“That would be aggressive, given labor market conditions, but something that I think is worth pursuing,” he said.
His team is not alone in facing obstacles to hiring in the private sector.
The job market for cybersecurity experts is in “crisis”
Governments can find it very difficult to compete with private sector salaries – and the intense security checks required of anyone working on sensitive government files can also discourage outside hiring.
“The cybersecurity job market in Canada and around the world 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 vacancies in Canada and there are millions of vacancies around the world. So the labor shortage is extreme. There is virtually no unemployment in this sector. The numbers are disheartening.”
The Communications Security Establishment, which collects and decodes signals intelligence and is also responsible for technology security for the federal government, said it faces its own challenges recruiting and retaining cybersecurity experts.
“Are we in competition with the CST? Yes. Are we in competition with CSIS? Yes. Are we in competition with the private sector? Yes, we are all looking for the same talent,” McGillis said.
“I think the security and intelligence community does a pretty good job of making sure we don’t steal from each other. And if we do, it’s in the best interest of all partners, but it’s a challenge.”
Civilians can become agents of peace
The RCMP has attempted to tap into the talents of the private sector and graduate programs and has established student co-op programs to combat cybercrime.
According to the latest Statistics Canada report, more than two-fifths of large businesses (250 or more employees) were affected by cybersecurity incidents in 2019. That year, just under 30% of medium-sized businesses (those with 50 to 249 employees) and 18% of small businesses were affected.
New recruits are introduced to the RCMP’s police science training program, McGillis said — which is simpler than trying to teach serving officers how to code.
Depending on their role, a civilian may even be granted peace officer status. This gives them the power to do what a regular member does without putting themselves in danger.
“We want them to be as integrated and integrated into investigative teams as possible,” McGillis said.
“If you asked me 15 years from now what it might look like, you could very easily have a civilian investigator leading the investigation team supplemented by regular members. Who knows?”
Finlay’s school offers a cybersecurity training and certification program focused on women, new Canadians, displaced workers, Black and Indigenous, and other people of color. He said interest in the field exceeds the number of places available in the program.
He said the RCMP’s recruiting problem could be solved 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 with respect to this issue regarding cybersecurity professionals is not unique to the RCMP…But there is an opportunity here that I think the RCMP should take advantage of,” he said. .
“I think the RCMP is in a position to create cybersecurity training programs for uniformed officers and for civilians that can provide RCMP personnel with the skills they need.”
The RCMP’s decision to bring in more civilians comes as it struggles to attract and retain regular members. An RCMP spokesperson said its vacancy rate was about 4.3%.
McGillis stressed that the program is not intended to replace officers in the field.
“It’s really about moving towards that good expertise. And that’s not to say our regular force doesn’t have it,” he said.
“But when you look at the crime that we’re tackling, it’s actually our regular members telling us that we need to go out and find people with those skills.”
A spokesman for the National Police Federation said the union had no comment “to share at this time”.