The City of Red Deer is sticking with the RCMP rather than establishing a municipal police force.
But city council is going to strive to make the national law enforcement agency more responsive to local needs.
In a 6-3 vote Tuesday, most councillors did not support a motion by Coun. Tanya Handley to transition toward a municipal police force after hearing the results of a $200,000 report presented by protective services director Paul Goranson.
Council heard that the city now pays about $38 million a year for RCMP services. Accounting for a possible 16 per cent salary increase, due to pending police unionization, as well as inflation, this is expected to grow to $44 million by 2023.
Using the same number of variously ranked officers and civilian support workers to get an “apples to apples comparison,” Goranson said estimates show it would cost Red Deerians $51 million in 2023 to pay for a municipal police force.
The loss of a 10 per cent federal grant was factored into those calculations.
While Handley said she supports all men and women in uniform, and feels they are doing a great job on a personal level to stop criminals, she compared the RCMP to a large ship that takes a long time to turn around or redirect.
Handley, as well as Coun. Buck Buchanan and Coun. Vesna Higham, who supported her motion, felt that a local force would be more responsive to local needs.
They felt municipal officers would spend more time living in the community than RCMP officers, who are transferred out, on average, after 3.5 years.
And the three councillors felt a local police force would react quicker to bring on new technologies that could free up officers to do more crime fighting.
But the majority of councillors, while not disputing some of these conclusions, felt during this period of high crime in a slow economy, now was not the time to get rid of a policing system that is largely working well and making strides toward reducing crime in Red Deer.
Mayor Tara Veer summarized the general sentiment by saying citizens are not going to appreciate the five to 10 per cent tax increase needed to transition to and operate a municipal force.
She added that many of the problems involve the justice system, not the police, citing the lack of prosecutors and repeat offenders being slapped with short jail sentences.
The local RCMP detachment has been working proactively with citizens and businesses to reduce and prevent crime, said Veer.
She also believes the RCMP has the capacity and expertise to deal with organized crime — which is some of what Red Deer is dealing with, being on the highway between Alberta’s major centres and on a western drug corridor.
Veer, like many of the other councillors, feels the RCMP has become more responsive to local needs in the past few years as city administrators have worked more with police officials on an annual plan that prioritizes local objectives.
While council chose to stay with the RCMP for policing, the mayor noted, councillors aren’t willing to accept the status quo, but plan to keep pushing for improvements in local police service.
They are leaving it to the city manager to prioritize safety initiatives and bring forward new strategies as they arise.