Lacombe County has agreed to pay for an extra RCMP officer to help tackle an “epidemic” of rural crime.
The new general investigation service (GIS) officer will become part of a two-officer unit able to take on bigger investigations and build cases against career criminals.
Red Deer County council agreed in March to fund the other officer.
“I look at this as a very important first step to combat something that has been very, very high on the priorities of our residents,” said Mayor Jim Wood at the time.
Based out of Blackfalds, the new investigators will work with other detachments in the area and do the kind of police work that officers responding call to call don’t have time for.
RCMP turned to the counties for help because there is no provincial money available to boost detachment officer numbers.
“Unfortunately, there are no anticipated positions for 2017 due to a cap on resources,” says an RCMP report on the enhanced policing proposal for council.
Lacombe County’s three-year commitment will cost $462,000.
“I think it will be money well spent and it will benefit our citizens,” said Coun. Dana Kreil.
In voicing her support, Coun. Barb Shepherd said,“Our folks are becoming nervous in their own homes and that becomes a concern to me.”
Councillors are hoping the officers will be effective in reducing what many rural residents see as an alarming and escalating property crime wave.
Coun. Rod McDermand said he recently spoke to a 93-year-old man who was targeted by thieves three times in one year.
“This, in my mind, is an epidemic.”
How the officers will be used was the biggest reservation of councillors, who want their expectations clearly laid out in a memorandum of understanding with RCMP.
“We have to have some assurances if we’re paying the bills that we’re somehow involved in the process,” said McDermand.
In its motion approving the position, council outlined that it wants the position to be used for GIS only, that the officer work with other detachments within the county, and that the county be regularly updated on the investigation unit’s success.
“I see this person as a specialist to help all these detachments connect the dots,” said Coun. Brenda Knight.
Councillors said what they don’t want to see are the new officers being used to fill in vacancies in the regular detachment.
“We don’t want this to be used as a flex position,” said Keith Boras, the county’s manager of environmental and protective services. “We want to make sure we’re getting a full-time position on our behalf.”
The officers are not expected to be on the job until late this year at the earliest given the time it will take to hammer out a memorandum of understanding and for the RCMP to fill the positions.