National Police Federation director Jeff McGowan discussed the merits of keeping Alberta’s RCMP and not replacing it with a provincial force on Monday in Red Deer. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

National Police Federation director Jeff McGowan discussed the merits of keeping Alberta’s RCMP and not replacing it with a provincial force on Monday in Red Deer. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

Cost of replacing Alberta RCMP would be huge: National Police Federation

Town hall meeting held on Monday to highlight merits of Alberta RCMP

Alberta’s transition to a provincial police force could cost $1 billion or more based on Surrey, B.C.’s experiences, said a National Police Federation spokesman on Monday in Red Deer.

The province has been floating the idea of replacing Alberta’s 3,100 RCMP officers and 1,000 civilians with a provincial force. A PriceWaterhouseCooper study estimated the transition costs alone at $366 million to $371 million depending on the option chosen.

Those numbers could be well off the mark, said Kevin Halwa, director for the Prairies and North Region, for the association representing 20,000 RCMP officers across Canada.

Surrey, with a population of 440,000, has been making the transition from RCMP to a municipal police force since 2020. Transition costs estimated at $19 million have topped $80 million and are growing, said Halwa.

And that is the cost in a single community. Alberta’s RCMP serves 1.8 million residents out of 113 locations.

If the kind of cost overruns are repeated in this province, transition costs could easily top $1 billion, said Halwa at a town hall meeting at Cambridge Hotel Red Deer and Conference Centre that drew about 30 people.

Red Deer was the 17th stop on the tour designed to highlight the benefits of hanging onto the RCMP and the disadvantages and costs of replacing it. Nearly two dozen other town hall meetings are already scheduled until early March.

Meanwhile, Alberta Justice is holding its own meetings early this year with municipal and Indigenous officials and public safety groups to discuss the benefits of Alberta forming its own police force. A public survey has also been promised.

Halwa, who worked for many years as an RCMP officer in Sylvan Lake, where he still lives, said the province will have to pick up other costs if it makes the switch.

The cost of RCMP policing in the province is about $600 million — nearly $190 million of which is covered by the federal government. Alberta taxpayers would lose that contribution with a provincial force.

Alberta would also lose out on the deep expertise and the services the RCMP provides, including major crimes investigations, police dog services, undercover operations; technical, identification and lab experts, as well as a long history of community and First Nations initiatives.

It is unlikely that many RCMP officers will join a provincial force. A best-case scenario would see around 15 per cent of officer make the switch, leaving Alberta trying to recruit and train 2,500 officers in four years.

“To suggest we can recruit 2,500 new officers in a brand new police force with a lot of questions is a tough pill to swallow,” said Halwa.

One person in the audience said he would be concerned about the quality of the officers in such a new force.

Part of the town hall was devoted to clearing up misapprehensions. Some Alberta politicians have suggested having a provincial police force would free it from being controlled from Ottawa.

“That is not a fact. That is not true,” Halwa said.

The country’s division commanders, such as Alberta K-Division deputy commissioner Curtis Zablocki, determine what resources are needed in consultation with provincial governments.

Jeff McGowan, also a director with Prairies/North Region, said a November 2021 poll commissioned by the union showed 84 per cent of those polled do not support losing the RCMP. Only nine per cent were in favour of a provincial force.

The RCMP had proven they can get the job done when facing challenges such as rising rural crime. To address the problem, which was increasingly frustrating many Albertans, crime reduction units were formed in the province, each responsible for a different area.

By 2020, there had been a 10 per cent drop in rural crime rates and six per cent drop in municipal crime rates. Break and enters were down 17 per cent, theft under $5,000 charges down 22 per cent, and 21,285 fewer Criminal Code offences.

McGowan said tackling and preventing crime involves addressing underlying social causes, ensuring there are enough prosecutors and judges and undertaking other initiatives rather than simply changing who is doing the policing.

“To me, that would end up having a far great impact on crime and crime prevention.”

Another town hall was set for Rocky Mountain House on Monday and others were taking place in Stettler and Hanna on Tuesday and Olds and Drumheller on Wednesday.

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