Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said the Alberta government should keep a close eye on additional costs when considering a switch from the RCMP to a provincial police force.
The provincial government maintains that no extra expense would be incurred in making the switch to an Alberta police force, according to the results of an independent report prepared by PwC Canada.
But Johnston is among those who are skeptical.
Given the results of several independent studies that were done to determine if Red Deer should start its own police force or stick with the RCMP, he believes cost will be a factor.
Each time the City of Red Deer studied the pros and cons of cost of starting a city-run police department, the expense was found to significantly outweigh the benefits. “If the province is saying there will be no extra cost, I would ask how are they going to mitigate that?” said Johnston, who was on city council the last time an independent review was done in December of 2019.
A report by KPMG consulting had found Red Deer taxpayers would have to pay up to $13.5 million for a city police force, which would take two to four years to implement. This hefty price tag was attributed to having to buy a fleet of municipal police vehicles and equipment, setting up a municipal dispatch system, and losing out on some economies of scale in current RCMP purchasing.
Johnston noted the province would also lose about a 10 per cent federal subsidy currently provided for using RCMP services because “I don’t see the Government of Canada participating in funding a provincial force.”
This could impact long-term costs of policing. In 2019, KPMG consulting found switching to a municipal police force would cost Red Deer taxpayers $50 million annually by 2023, compared to $43.7 million for the RCMP. A major factor cited was the loss of the federal subsidy.
Ken McMullen, the city’s acting general manager of protective services, said Red Deer sees a lot of benefit from being part of a national police service. Whenever a major crime takes place that requires bringing in additional police resources, such as a helicopter, or an extra canine unit, it doesn’t cost local taxpayers more, he added.
With the RCMP, there’s also access to training at no incremental cost. McMullen questioned how this would work with a provincial unit?
In 2019, KPMG found policing costs of Red Deer’s RCMP were in line with average policing costs for 11 comparison municipalities — even though this city had the highest crime index.
McMullen isn’t yet sure whether Red Deer could stick with the RCMP for policing if Alberta switches to provincial police. Municipal officials intend to bring their questions and concerns to a public consultation process that the province is starting this month.
Last week, the Alberta government praised the new provincial policing model developed by PwC Canada that puts “more boots on the ground,” by sending more police officers to rural areas where concerns about response times and crime have escalated.
The provincial government said the new “innovative” model has the potential to better address the root causes of crime through built-in partnerships with mental health and addictions professionals.
But the New Democrats stated the report glosses over “hundreds of millions of dollars” in new costs for Albertans.
And the Alberta Urban Municipalities Aassociation (AUMA) is concerned some “important questions” were not addressed in the PwC report. The AUMA is pushing for a referendum to be held on the question of having a provincial police force, as was promised by the premier in 2019.