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Another police review for Red Deer?

A city councillor who voted to keep the RCMP in Red Deer is having second thoughts.

Coun. Paul Harris introduced a notice of motion at Tuesday’s council meeting to discuss whether council made the right decision in October 2011.

Council voted 7-2 in favour of keeping the RCMP versus starting a municipal police force. Coun. Chris Stephan and Coun. Buck Buchanan voted against the motion last year.

“I am having second thoughts,” said Harris. “We’ve been working with the RCMP to get a clear set of service delivery standards essentially with them for several months so we know exactly what we’re getting for the money we are putting for the service. And that process has been going a little too slow.”

Harris said he would like to see the process speed up because he knows the RCMP will ask for more police officers during January’s operating budget talks.

“I feel really uncomfortable in granting more police officers without knowing what our service levels are going to be,” said Harris. “It’s giving the cart before the horse.”

The October 2011 vote came after the city paid consultants $150,000 to produce a report on crime prevention and policing in the city. The report recommended keeping the national police force versus starting a municipal force.

The report said retaining the RCMP would be more cost-effective and present fewer staffing challenges.

The startup cost of establishing a new force — pegged between $7 million and $10 million — played a factor in council’s decision.

Harris said in the last few months there was an unanticipated increase in the policing contract that caused him to rethink the city’s move.

“Let’s just be sure that we decided and all those assumptions we made over the policing contract is actually still valid and holds true today,” he said. “I am supportive of the police. I am happy to put more officers on the street but I want to know we’re getting good value for our money.”

Policing is a leading cost in the city’s operating budget. According to city documents, the RCMP account for 15.5 per cent of the current $272.6 million operating budget.

The RCMP contract involves a 90/10 split, where the city pays 90 per cent and the federal government pays the remainder. The province also provides a municipal policing grant on a per capita basis.

“We know that each police officer that we add, we will have to add $150,000 to the budget,” said Harris. “The police are asking for another 20 or so officers, which is going to be a substantial tax increase. We want to make sure we verify the decision we made to stay with the RCMP ... was the right decision.”

The City of Red Deer recently released crime statistics for the period between 2006 and 2011, as well as staffing levels at the detachment. The report showed the number of Criminal Code case files per member at Red Deer City RCMP was nearly 150, compared with the provincial average of 99 cases per officer.

Supt. Warren Dosko said the police will be asking for a significant hike during operational budget talks in January.

The statistics also showed the number of Criminal Code files each Mountie has per 1,000 residents. The detachment’s number is 202 per 1,000 residents, compared with the Alberta average of 139 files per 1,000 residents.

“It might be a bit premature,” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes of Harris’s motion. “We did a lot of study and thought when we decided to have our contract with the RCMP. I think it’s only fair that we work with them in trying to find the appropriate levels of services and give that a fair shot.”

The city is in discussions with the RCMP about the levels of service. Wyntjes said until those statistics are brought forward and discussed with council, she is not prepared to change course.

“Regardless of whether we have a municipal force or RCMP officers, we need more officers because we have a crime problem in Red Deer,” said Stephan.

Stephan said he is curious to see what city administration will recommend to council. The motion will come before council on Nov. 26.

crhyno@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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