Replacing the RCMP with provincial police will likely be costly without addressing the biggest problems related to crime and punishment, say central Alberta community leaders.
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said he met with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro a few weeks ago. While creating a provincial police force came up, Johnston said he remains uncertain how it would help.
“‘Unclear’ might be the best word I could use on specifically what benefits does this bring to the City of Red Deer at this point in time,”said Johnston.
“When you thrown in the cost equation and the loss of the federal subsidy, I think all of us have to sit back and say how are you proposing to change the scope of policing, not just in Red Deer, but in our surrounding communities and not impact the municipalities’ bottom lines or ability to finance this going forward.”
Johnston also believes the government has picked the wrong target for changes.
“The justice system is really the system that needs the greatest overhaul. It doesn’t really matter who is doing the policing when we currently have plugged-up courts and caseloads that are overwhelming our Crown prosecutors …”
As well, the justice system does not seem to be able to keep offenders behind bars.
“What is happening right now is a bit of a revolving door,” he said. “To me, we have to start with an overhaul of our justice system, and the capacity of our justice system, and then I think we can have a very fair and clear debate on whether we’re getting served (by provincial police) or not.”
Penhold Mayor Mike Yargeau said the town has sent numerous letters to the province expressing their opposition to replacing RCMP officers with provincial police.
The cost is among the community’s top concerns, said Yargeau, citing Surrey, B.C.’s experiences. It has been reported that Surrey’s 2021 budget showed the transition was $18.5 million over the original $45 million estimate.
“I don’t know how they think Alberta is going to be different all of a sudden,” he said.
Yargeau does not believe going to a provincial police force will mean better service.
“Albertans that aren’t generally involved in the process are looking at this to fix problems that it won’t fix,” he said.
“There are not enough officers and there is a larger problem with the justice system and offenders being released. We need more justice reform than a different uniform on the officers.”
Even finding the people to fill those uniforms is likely to be a challenge, he said, adding the RCMP is already having trouble recruiting.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro outlined the government’s blueprint for more police in rural Alberta on Tuesday. Under the plan, 275 front-line police officers would be added to the 42 smallest detachments.
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said as it stands, there is no minimum number of officers at RCMP detachments. He said a made-in-Alberta police force would provide better policing for all regions including improved response times.
Shandro said the proposed model would have 65 to 85 community detachments that would have a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 80 officers working in them.
Lacombe County Reeve Barb Shepherd said there are “mixed emotions” on her council about the provincial police proposal.
“We are certainly aware of the benefit of having a little more input into policing in our local area,” she said.
“However, we’re also aware that there is going to be considerable cost and at this point in time they just haven’t made clear to us what the cost will be.”
Shepherd also wonders where the new officers will come from given the difficulties the RCMP and other police forces have had in recruiting.
Surrey’s experience showed that projections were well off the mark on how many RCMP officers would choose to join a municipal force.
“I don’t know how a provincial police force would be any different. There are just a lot of unanswered questions.”
Shepherd believes the RCMP in recent years has been receptive to rural crime concerns.
“In the last two or thee years the RCMP have made a lot of improvements in communication with us. I feel like they’re listening to us more than they were four or five years ago.”
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood said is a big supporter of the RCMP and their reputation.
“They are a part of the institution of Canada. They were here from the start and they’ve done a wonderful job through time of doing the police work.”
Wood said he liked the province’s proposal to have a minimum of 10 officers in each rural detachment, but wonders why there can’t be a way to boost officer numbers within the existing system.
“I’m not sure whether or not what I’m seeing is the only answer or other improvements can be made.
“The RCMP have done a great job for us. I’m still not convinced that not keeping the RCMP will be a benefit.”
Rural Municipalities of Alberta which has previously opposed the provincial policing scheme, is still analyzing the province’s plan.
However, the RMA, which represents 69 Alberta counties and municipal districts, continues to have concerns with how effectively the province’s plan will address municipal costs, rural service levels and local input into policing.
Adding new officers into rural detachments may be helpful, but how many will be required, where would they come from and what infrastructure and administration would be needed to support them and who would pay are just a few of RMA’s questions.