Most councillors play policing card close to the vest

Three of nine elected leaders say they are leaning towards keeping Mounties on Red Deer streets versus starting up a municipal force.

RCMP officers take statements from drivers involved in a recent Ross Street collision.

RCMP officers take statements from drivers involved in a recent Ross Street collision.

Three of nine elected leaders say they are leaning towards keeping Mounties on Red Deer streets versus starting up a municipal force.

City council will make a key decision on Monday on whether to accept a consultant report’s recommendation that the RCMP should stay in town.

Although Mayor Morris Flewwelling and the rest of council say their minds won’t be totally made up yet until Monday’s final discussion, several say they have formed opinions.

Councillors Dianne Wyntjes, Lynne Mulder and Cindy Jefferies said that the RCMP seems to provide the better deal.

As Mulder says, the in-depth consultants’ report, Crime Prevention and Policing Strategic Update and Policing Services Model Review, suggested that starting up a new police force would be very costly.

“And the report hasn’t demonstrated any real problem with our current police force,” said Mulder. “That’s where I’m at the moment. I am looking forward to the debate. My mind can change.”

Wyntjes, who along with Mulder was part of the policing review committee, said she gives weight to what Peter Copple of Calgary and Keith Taylor of Vancouver said about keeping the RCMP because it was cost-effective. Plus, there would be fewer staffing challenges, said the consultants.

She’s also been considering what residents are telling her.

“The majority are saying: stay with the RCMP,” she said.

An online poll done by the Advocate on the weekend had 63 people vote in favour of the RCMP or 74 per cent, versus 22 votes or 25 per cent for a municipal police force.

Jefferies said she needs to maintain an open perspective until council discusses the issue on Monday. But she is thinking of supporting the RCMP, mainly due to the extra money it would cost to set up a municipal force.

“We’d be better off to put even a portion of that money into some more preventive measures,” Jefferies said.

Jefferies said the city owns the new RCMP detachment building, so if council decided to switch, it would retain that building.

According to the study, the anticipated operating costs of the RCMP detachment are estimated to be lower than the projected costs for a Red Deer police department. It costs the city $20.8 million annually to have the RCMP, versus $24.9 million for a municipal police department.

The city would also face at cost of $4.6 million to $5.7 million in 2011 values to set up a municipal department.

The report does say that benefits are divided when it comes to having the RCMP or the municipal police force.

Councillor Tara Veer said she considers the city has a hybrid of policing already since municipal employees do a lot of the traffic enforcement. Peace officers enforce city bylaws. She’d like to push for more of a hybrid model.

“Looking at the 2012 budget and the start-up costs and ongoing operating costs, I think probably we need to sign some components of the RCMP,” Veer said. “But I am in favour of reviewing looking at some parts of enforcement to see what we can do more cost-effective and service-wise with local peace officers.”

Veer said whatever comes on Monday, she’d like to see the city establish service levels in the areas of: police response times, target numbers for clearing cases, caseloads per officer, and response times for bylaw complaints. As well, the city need to identify local priorities in both enforcement and prevention measures, Veer said.

Councillor Buck Buchanan said he’d like to see a municipal police to look after the day-to-day complaints of the public, or front-end policing. And then have the RCMP look after the serious crimes like organized crime. The two forces could work together.

Buchanan, a Mountie for 30 years before retiring, said he knows the experience of the RCMP is to have entry-level police officers do the regular complaints.

“The mentality is when you get to be any good in uniform policing, we’ll put you in a specialized unit,” he said. “In Red Deer, because we have limited positions, we have a rolling target for retention.”

Councillor Chris Stephan called Buchanan’s concept for a hybrid force an “interesting one” but it’s not being proposed by staff.

“If you went with a municipal force, it might be a hybrid initially,” said Stephan. “I certainly think there are strengths with a municipal police force. There’s a compelling argument for it — but I can’t make a decision before the council meeting.”

One thing he likes about a municipal force is the ability to hire and retain people from Red Deer, versus an RCMP force that is typically transient.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said he’s not going to say one way or the other how he’s going to vote until the final discussion.

“Very often, as things rattle through the system, there can be some illumination at what would appear to be the 11th hour,” Flewwelling said. “It would be premature for council to say (how they’re going to vote). They should all be in the view of considering it.”

Councillor Frank Wong said he’s trying to determine whether policing for both services is equal. The next big question for him is cost.

“I haven’t yet figured that out — if it’s cheaper for the RCMP,” Wong said. “All the other major municipalities have municipal policing, so I’m not sure it’s true. I don’t know.”

So he’s not sure yet how he will vote.

The same goes for Councillor Paul Harris.

“I need to hear the whole discussion,” Harris said.

Harris added he believes the key focus of this review centres on crime prevention, which can be done by either a municipal police force or the RCMP.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

— copyright Red Deer Advocate

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