(OTTAWA) The union that represents Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) dispatchers and emergency operators is calling on the RCMP to come up with a recruitment plan to address worsening staffing shortages.

Hundreds of people are on long-term sick leave and many more are looking to leave, according to Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 104 President Kathleen Hippern.

“We’re so understaffed,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

When someone dials 911 and asks for the police, Ms. Hippern points out that its members take the call and gather the information officers need before they get to the scene.

“The police don’t move until one of us responds to this call. ┬╗

Few centers are fully staffed, noting that in Nova Scotia about 50% of positions go unfilled, says Hippern.

She said morale is “appalling” and she believes understaffing is affecting public safety by leaving callers waiting sometimes minutes before someone can answer.

“I’m terrified for one of my family members who has to call 911.”

The RCMP has generally struggled to fill vacancies for years, with hiring and training efforts also hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP officers, recently said part of the problem stems from people applying at slightly older ages and members retiring earlier.

As the RCMP prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary next month, Ms. Hippern says a strong recruiting strategy is needed.