Merritt’s Mayor Neil Menard also takes shifts as a jail guard.

Merritt RCMP would like to return to the number of jail guards it once had available to watch over prisoners at the police station’s cells.

The detachment employs three full-time jail guards, but could use more than the two spares currently on hand.

“I would like to have five to seven spares to work at the detachment,” said Staff Sgt. Sheila White, noting the detachment has had that many in years past. “We’re actively recruiting for guards and because of the volume of prisoners that we have in Merritt we need a compliment of guards that can fill the various shifts that we have,” she said.

There are three different shifts to fill — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to midnight and 12 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Police officers act as jail guards in the absence of a guard, White told the Herald. Spare guards receive shifts to fill the gap when full-timers cannot make a shift.

One of those spares is Rusty Brewer, who has worked as a jail guard for the past 14 years.

At last week’s police committee meeting Brewer pointed out that the graveyard shift can be a tough one to fill, and the job itself is no simple task.

“This is not a job where you just walk in and sit on your butt for eight hours,” Brewer told the city’s police committee at the last meeting. “You have to be very aware of your prisoner or prisoners,” she said.

There must be one jail guard on duty for every eight prisoners in cells at a time for Merritt commissioners to watch over, Brewer said.

Merritt’s mayor Neil Menard also works as a guard at the Merritt detachment.

He said when it comes to the job, the safety of the people in the cells is paramount.

Brewer said if a guard observes a prisoner sleeping and cannot observe their diaphragm moving indicating breathing, they must contact a police officer in the detachment or via phone if no one is on duty.

Also, any person classified as being suicidal results in an additional guard being brought in to watch over the person.

Merritt being used as a transfer point

The jail cells at Merritt’s RCMP detachment have been a prime stopover as of late for prisoners being transferred from correctional facilities in the province to the recently-built provincial prison near Oliver in the Okanagan.

“The sheriffs wanted a central location to meet to do a transfer of prisoners,” RCMP Staff Sgt. Sheila White told the city’s police committee at last Wednesday’s meeting.

“Sometimes there’s a gap [between] when the Lower Mainland [sheriffs] arrive and when Oliver [sheriffs] arrive, so in order to treat the guests with dignity and respect, they’re not kept in a sheriffs prison van for hours, they’re booked into our cells,” said White.

White said the sheriffs watch over their prisoners at the Merritt cells themselves, so a guard is not needed to be brought in, meaning no costs are being incurred locally, she said.

 “They do all the work and that was the main reason why I agreed to have Merritt be the exchange point,” White told the Herald.  

White said the transfers haven’t caused an overcrowding issue at the Merritt detachment to date.

“That’s one thing that we will keep an eye on,” White said. “If that [were to] become an issue I would stop those,” she said.  

The Okanagan Correctional Centre began taking in prisoners this year from other jails around the province. It is the largest correctional centre in B.C. with 378 cells and is expected to provide relief to crowded jails elsewhere in the province.